Keokuk, IA National Guard Armory Explosion and Fire, Nov 1965
FIERY DEATH FOR 7 IN KEOKUK, IOWA
SCORES HURT AS BLAST RIPS DANCE AT ARMORY.
By Harry F. Rosenthal
Keokuk, Ia. (AP) - An explosion and flash fire demolished a national guard armory Wednesday night, sending seven persons to a fiery death and tragically ending a gala Thanksgiving eve square dance.
"Four or five more are not expected to live," Sheriff H. R. Delahoyde said Thursday. "They are literally burned up."
Most of the other 60 to 70 persons in the building were burned or injured. "All our hospitals are filled," the sheriff said. "We had to send some patients to Quincy, Ill., Burlington and Iowa City."
Dr. R. E. Cooper, on duty at St. Joseph hospital here, said eight persons were in critical condition, and three were transferred to University hospitals at Iowa City, the nearest burn center.
"It was a horrible sight," said Mrs. John Talbott. "There was screaming and everyone was hollering for people to call doctors and ambulances."
Marilyn Chance said she saw people "running from the building. They were naked. Their clothes were burned off."
Caused by Gas
Fire Chief John Breheny and Delahoyde said the explosion was caused by gas. "There is a gas furnace out there," the sheriff said.
"The explosion blew the walls out and the top up," he said. "There was a terrific fire for a few seconds. It had to be gas."
Capt. James Baugher, 34, commander of the national guard company based at the armory, said the blast apparently originated in the basement.
"It heaved that reinforced steel floor right up and it fell back down into the basement," he said.
Dr. Cooper said the dead included four women, one man and two children. Four of the dead were burned beyond recognition.
The dead were identified as:
MRS. LEONARD BRYANT, Rt. 2, Keokuk.
BILLY BENNETT, Keokuk and his son, TONY BENNETT, 6.
MRS. LOUIS BESSER, sister of the mayor-elect of Keokuk, Kenneth Henke.
MRS. RAY (ALICE) SUMMERS, Rt. 2, Keokuk.
MRS. LEO MAY, Keokuk.
MRS. CARL GOODRICH, Carthage, Illinois
MRS. RICHARD DAVIS, Keokuk.
CARL GOODRICH, Cathage.
MRS. CHESTER STARR, Keokuk.
MRS. RAY BECKETT, Argyle.
LEO MAY, Keokuk.
MRS. DON HOAMBRECKER, Keokuk.
RAY BECKETT, Argyle.
RANDALL THOMPSON, 12, Keokuk.
MRS. ROBERT ANDERSON, Keokuk.
MRS. IVAN PILKINGTON, Nauvoo.
MRS. JAY JOY, Keokuk.
LOUIS BESSER, Keokuk.
MRS. ROBERT HARNETIAUX, Hamilton.
MRS. HERMAN SMITH, Keokuk.
MRS. MARGUERITE DAVIS, Keokuk.
MRS. GERALDINE STARR, Keokuk.
Dr. Cooper said "most of these people can't tell us anything. The damn thing just blew up."
Mrs. Darrell Carroll of Carthage said if the dancers had been around the refreshment stand at the time of the explosion "we all would have been killed."
She said the stand was near the center of the blast.
"There were 48 persons dancing in six squares and 12 others were sitting along the sidelines," she said.
"Ball of Fire"
"All I can remember was we were just getting finished with a square. There was a big ball of fire. My husband grabbed me. The wall fell out and we climbed over the wall."
Searchers frantically clawed for victims. Doctors and nurses from neighboring towns in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri rushed to this Mississippi river city to help.
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