South Amboy, NJ Munitions Explosion, May 1950
FIRE FLARES AFTER SOUTH AMBOY BLAST.
South Amboy, N. J., (AP) -- About twenty tons of phosphorus smoldered and flared on the waterfront last night as an aftermath of the South Amboy munitions disaster in which the official death toll is fixed at 27.
State Police Superintendent CHARLES SCHOEFFEL said the phosephorus was contained in about fifty drums on the grounds of the blast-shattered American Agricultural Chemical Company, right next to the spot where four munitions laden barges blew into the sky Friday night.
SCHOEFFEL said there was no danger to South Amboy from the fire and it would be allowed to burn itself out overnight. He said the blaze began at about 1:45 p.m. (EDT) out of control.
Land mines thrown among the tanks of phosphorus by the first explosion began popping, requiring Army and state policemen to keep clear the isolated area of the fire. Police counted 47 minor explosions as the afternoon wore on.
The bodies of only four of the 27 have been recovered. The rest disappeared in the funnel of flame and black smoke which roared into the sky as 600 tons of munitions blew up at South Amboy last Friday night.
Churches held special Sunday services to mourn the dead and to give thanks to God that the toll was not higher.
Meanwhile Coast Guard headquarters in Washington disclosed that the munitions which exploded were destined for Pakistan from Newark, Ohio.
Vice Admiral MERLIN O'NEILL, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said in a statement that the Coast Guard decided to let one last shipment of more than 500 pounds of munitions clear through South Amboy. Arrangements had been completed before a May 9 Coast Guard order limiting the amount to be shipped from the congested area to 500 pounds.
Admiral O'NEILL said, "the Coast Guard considered it safer to permit the movement of this one additional shipment of explosives through South Amboy rather than have it remain in boxcars in congested east coast rail yards pending rerouting to another explosive loading facility."
Most of yesterday's church services in this waterfront city of 10,000 persons, 21 miles southwest of New York City, were held on lawns outside the battered, boarded-up churches. It was warm and sunny, the first spring like day since the drizzling rains of Friday night's disaster.
Mgr. FRANCIS J. SULLIVAN told worshippers gathered on the lawn outside St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church that "services this morning are services of thanksgiving. Thanks is due to the Almighty God that the disaster was not worse."
At Christ Episcopal Church, the REV. HARRY S. WEYRICH told his congregation that what had happened to their town was "a frightening examply of the futility of international bickering which might lead to war."
The disaster, he said, should serve "as a good argument against all this talk about war and preparing for war." Scattered throughout the congregation were many of the more than 300 injured still swathed in bandages.
On the waterfront where the blast occurred, Army men with mine detectors completed the clearing of scattered bits of munitions which had rained onto the area in the explosion.
An Army demolition squad yesterday afternoon set off some loose explosive in the blast area to dispose of it. It was part of the cleanup program and was carefully controlled. There was no new fire in the area, police headquarters said.
Then rescue workers went in for a close search for possibly more of the victims, but no whole bodies were found. FRANK KURSAWA, the Middlesex County coroner, said there were only a few torn limbs.
Detective Capt. WALTER SIMPSON of the county prosecutor's office said he was satisfied that not another whole body would be found. He wrote off the death toll at an official 27 -- four bodies recovered, one of them mangled beyond recognition, and the 23 others missing.
Troops still patrolled the town yesterday, and state police maintained a tight ring around the city to keep out sightseers. Nobody was allowed into South Amboy except on official business.
The repair process went on quietly. Bulldozers were brought in to helps in the larger clearing up jobs, and carpenters and glazers were at a premium throughout town.
Insurance men set up a claims office at the South Amboy Tennis Club, and said they expected to pay out about $4,000,000 to policy holders. Municipal officials said the total damage would run probably to about $20,000,000.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard's official board of inquiry scheduled a new session this morning in New York City in an attempt to determine the cause of the waterfront blast.
An initial hearing had been held here Saturday. The investigators questioned the lone survivor from among the group that had been working on the wharf when the munitions blew up. He was AUSTIN STOTLE of South Amboy. He said he just didn't know what had happened.
The men had been loading the munitions from a railroad train onto four barges. The cargo was to be shuttled to the Flying Clipper, a ship of the Isbrandtsen Co., which was waiting in lower New York Bay.
The Troy Record New York 1950-05-22