Richmond, IN Gas Explosion, Apr 1968
16 Dead In Richmond Blast
Higher Toll Feared; Guard Called
By MARTIN BIEMER
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.
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