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Richmond, IN Gas Explosion, Apr 1968

16 Dead In Richmond Blast

Higher Toll Feared; Guard Called

Associated Press Writer

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) – An explosion and fire ripped through nearly two blocks of Main Street here Saturday, killing at least 16 persons and injuring more than 100 others.

Capt. Robert Konkle, state police chief of operations, said the rubble of eight buildings – three destroyed and five damaged – may yield “10 to 50 more, depending on how many were in the buildings.”

Bulldozers were brought in to shove aside the debris piled up along the two-block stretch of Main Street, which is also U.S. 40.

An emergency morgue was set up at the National Guard armory.
National Guard troops cordoned off the area.

Inside the cordon, two buildings were left with nothing standing higher that a man's head. Flames damaged five other buildings, leaving only the walls standing. The buildings were two and three stories tall.

State Police said gunpowder apparently exploded in the basement of the Marting Arms Co., a sporting goods store.

There was no immediate word as to what touched off the gunpowder.

“It seemed like somebody pulled the whole world out from under me,” said Leo Collins, a paint store employe who was walking along the sidewalk across the street from the sporting goods store. “It knocked me down.” He wasn't injured.

“Just about 10 feet away,” Collins said, “a woman was hit by a large piece of iron and killed. I went back to the paint store and got a cloth and covered her.”

A half-block away, Mrs. Kathleen Chappel, in the restaurant she operates, said, “I thought somebody had thrown a bomb through the window.”
Shattered glass few through the restaurant.

“We got everybody – about 50 customers – out the back door, except two women sitting in a booth who were cut,” she said. “An ambulance picked up one of the women. The other one wasn't hurt badly.”

Only half an hour before the blast, throngs of children had been crowded outside a movie theater half a block away. When the explosion occurred, they poured out onto the street screaming. Flames billowed up away from the theater. The theater was not one of the heavily damaged buildings.

The death toll mounted steadily as police and firemen picked through the debris of strewn bricks and the charred hulks of parked cars.

The first confirmed report came from the morgue at the armory where Sgt. Jack Pentecost said, “I saw them bring in four bodies.”

Then Don McBride, city parks superintendent, said he had seen eight bodies.
State Police reported at 3:30 p. m., two hours after the blast, that they could confirm 15 deaths. It was about this time that Fire Chief Donavon Johnson said the fire was under control.

The injured were taken to Reid Memorial, the only hospital in this eastern Indiana city of 44,000 population.

Charles Wright, assistant administrator of the hospital, said the emergency room had received about 50 injured who would be held for treatment. He said more than 50 others had been given emergency aid and released.

The blast broke out windows more than three blocks away and was heard more than a mile away.

At the request of city officials, the FBI dispatched its disaster squad from Washington, D.C., to assist in identification of Richmond blast victims.

The Richmond explosion was similar to a blast Feb. 26 in a Columbus, Ind., sporting goods store that killed one man and injured two others.

Police said a gun accidentally discharged in the Thompson Sporting Goods Store in Columbus, struck shotgun shell primers and touched off a blast and fire. Killed was a customer, Alva Bower, 49, Rt. 2, Westport.

The Kokomo Tribune Indiana 1968-04-07


39 Bodies Recovered From Blast-Torn Richmond; 33 Other Persons Missing

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) – Searchers found three more bodies today in the rubble of Richmond's business district hit by explosions and fire during a busy shopping day, state police said, raising the known death toll to 42.
Only 25 bodies have been identified and state police still list 21 persons missing.

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) – Thirty-nine bodies had been recovered from a blast-torn section of downtown Richmond today as weary searchers resumed tugging at shattered buildings for evidence of 33 other persons reported missing.
The explosion rocked the heart of the city Saturday as hundreds of shoppers crowded stores and streets. Fire triggered by the blast spread to adjacent buildings and wreckage was in a two-block section.

More than 100 persons were injured. Eighteen remained hospitalized today, three in critical condition.

State police said the blast erupted in the basement of Marting Arms Co. sporting goods store where gunpowder was stored for reloading ammunition for hunters and skeet shooters. Richmond Fire Marshal Fred Klotz said a large shipment of gunpowder reportedly was delivered to the store recently.

FBI agents said they were investigating the possibility of a gas leak being a factor in the explosion.

“It seemed like somebody pulled the whole world out from under me,” said Leo Collins, who was walking near the Marting store. A paint store employe, Collins was knocked down but escaped injury.

Capt. Kenneth E. Paust of the Indiana National Guard said the ceiling of a restaurant where he was having lunch began falling on customers.

“I ran into the street and saw an injured woman atop Sergent's Paint Store,” Paust said. “I got a ladder and with the aid of others got her down. She said she had been blown onto the roof by the explosion.”

Paust said people helped clear bricks and debris to get to the injured.

“There was no concern among the helpers for their own safety, even after one of them was injured slightly by exploding ammunition,” he said.

“There seemed to be little panic. There were just too many acts of heroism to cite any one as outstanding.”

Only a crater remained where the sporting goods store stood at the corner of Sixth and Main Streets. Neighboring buildings were torn apart. Flames damaged other buildings.

Three buildings were destroyed, five damaged severely. Windows were shattered for blocks around.

Some of the dead and injured were trapped in cars crushed by the blast and falling debris. Once car was hurled 50 feet. Officials said more than 150 vehicles were demolished.

Several hundred volunteers joined police, firemen and National Guardsmen searching the rubble. Many of the dead were burned or mutilated beyond recognition. Bodies were placed in plastic bags and taken to the temporary morgue in the armory of this city of 44,000 on the Ohio border.

An FBI disaster squad worked on identifications, taking fingerprints, noting scars and unusual body marks. Dentists made detailed diagrams of missing teeth, fillings and malformations.

There were more volunteers to aid in searching than officials could accommodate. At Earlham College outside the city 700 students offered to help.

“We just don't have enough for that many people to do,” an official said.

Two Earlham students did help. David White, a junior from New York City, worked Saturday until midnight, got six hours sleep and returned.

“I just couldn't see myself sitting around,” he said. “I knew if I came downtown they'd find something for me to do.”

“I know a little first aid,” said Heidi Earhart, Ithaca, N.Y., freshman. “They let me come to help while most of the other students had to stay at the college.”

The restaurant in which Capt. Paust was eating is half a block from the sporting goods store. “I thought somebody had thrown a bomb through the window,” said Mrs. Kathleen Chappel, restaurant operator.

Shattered glass was spewed through the cafe. “We got everybody – about 50 customers – out the back door, except for two women sitting in a booth, who were cut,” Mrs. Chappel said.

The Kokomo Tribune Indiana 1968-04-08


The Richmond Gas Explosion 1968

Many people survived this horrific accident I was but a lad, my father was a local gunsmith, my family had a picnic with the Marting's family the evening before the accident they had two daughters one of which was a year or two younger than myself. That evening I listened as my father scolded Mr. Marting's for not following the safety procedures when dealing with "Black Powder" as he had recently purchased a very large amount of the stuff! I do mean a large amount 100 50pound bags of it. Mr Marting was trying to get my dad and I to come down to the Marting's Arms store, dad said "You are supposed to only a small amount of the (Black Powder)and it is supposed to be kept in a static proof metal vault!" And I will never come into your shop as long as you have that much (Black Powder) on hands its a death trap!" When mr Marting's replied that the price was to good to be true, my dad replied "You can't spend it if you blow your and your family to hell in the process! The whole thing pissed my dad off! He said that he was going to call a friend of theirs on the following Monday with the FBI. Note* The 50lb.bags supposedly had been laying up against the back wall that was to the south. I myself didn't think anymore until the next day I mean I was a teenager, it was frightening but it was none of my business. The next day my Mom and I were downtown and walking by the Holthouse Furniture, when the first explosion took place, shortly there after there was what seemed like a barrage of explosions and even some gunfire, the only thing that I can compare it to is a combat zone. Back then none of us had ever heard of PTSD But I saw way more blood that day than I have ever seen again, my Mother went to her grave having repeated nighmares about that day nearly the rest of her life. I'm 61 now and this is the first that I've ever really spoken of it.
Thanks for reading this

article | by Dr. Radut