Cleveland, OH Gas Company Plant Explosion, Oct 1944
70 DIE IN CLEVELAND BLAST
FIRE RAGES IN 50-BLOCK AREA ON EAST SIDE
Thousands Made Homeless As Liquid Gas Tank Explodes
CLEVELAND, Oct. 21 - (AP) - The death toll climbed hourly today in the worst conflagration in Cleveland's history, and explosion-punctuated blaze that completely devastated an East Side area one-half mile square.
The list of known dead mounted to 70 as scores of emergency crews searched the gaunt remnants of hundreds of homes for victims trapped after a series of blasts destroyed the east Ohio Gas Co.'s $6,000,000 liquid gas storage plant at the foot of E. 62nd St. The latest official figure on missing persons was 168.
Chairman STANLEY ORR of the Cleveland Red Cross unit, in a message to Washington Red Cross headquarters, expressed the fear that fatalities might reach 200. Coroner S. R. GERBER said it was "virtually impossible" to estimate the number of persons not accounted for.
Witnesses said the fire still flared in isolated spots over a 50-block district at 11 a. m. (Lima time) but was under control.
An estimated 3,600 persons were made homeless by blasts which sent flames towering 2,800 feet into the air. Possibly 10,000 others were evacuated from yet undamaged homes because of utilities disruption and the danger of further blasts.
The identified dead included HUGH O'DONNELL, E. B. EBERHARDT, JERRY RYAN, ZETTIE GRIFFITH, LOUIS SAFRAN and three grandchildren (identification tentative), ROBERT H. BURNELL, WILLIAM McALLISTER, MRS. ADOLPH SCHWEBS, JOSEPH J. HOGAN, FRANK THOMAS, DONALD HICKS.
Fire Chief JAMES E. GRANGER estimated damage at "between $3,000,000 and $5,000,000," but added the estimate probably would be revised upwards. He said the blaze might continue most of the day.
Families from the stricken area choked nearby streets, most of them lugging what few possessions they could grab.
Adj. Gen. DONALD F. PANCOAST of Ohio ordered 500 Cleveland State Guards and Naval Militiamen mobilized to patrol the burned area and protect property from looters.
The first blast at 2:50 p. m. (Lima time) yesterday was believed to have occurred in one of three spherical liquid gas storage tanks, part of East Ohio Gas Co.'s property at E. 61st St. and the New York Central railroad tracks.
More than 50 private and service ambulances sped between the disaster scene and Cleveland hospitals. Red Cross refugee centers were set up in nearby schools. The Army supplied cots and thousands of homeless slept in gymnasiums and recreation halls or wandered from one center to another, seeking missing relatives and friends.
Critically burned, one of the victims walked unaided into Glenville hospital during the conflagration. Her clothing had been burned almost completely from her body, disclosing horribly seared flesh. She died shortly before midnight.
"I was going to plug in my sweeper,: said MRS. CHARLES FLICKINGER. "Suddenly it seems like the walls turned all red. I looked at the windows and the shades were on fire. The house filled with smoke. I think the furnace had blown up, then I see the fire all around."
MRS. THOMAS KOMAR and her two-year-old daughter were in a grocery store when the first explosion shook the building. "All I can remember are the telephone poles smoking and bending in the street," she said.
"I though my shoes would melt right off my feet," declared MRS. TALIA TOROK, adding that "the fire was right above us about as high as a three-story house."
Homeless men, women and children about 425 of them, slept fitfully last night on Army cots in classrooms, corridors and the gymnasium of Wilison Junior high school on E. 55th St. converted into disaster headquarters by the Red Cross. Most fled the flames-engulfed area with only the clothes they wore.
MRS. BERTHA OTT, her four children about her, related she heard the first blast and "out of my window I see everything all red."
"When I open the door the grass was burning. All the children but GERALDINE were in school. We ran out."
"Up in the sky was all fire," interrupted GERALDINE, four.
Tearfully, MRS. OTT continued: "I took so good care of everything. My dog Tootsie - she was to have puppies - my three cats, my chicken, all gone."
MRS. JOSEPHINE MIVSEL, a neighbor, sat nearby with two children. She sadly remarked that she did not know where her other two youngsters were.
"All my cash, my bonds, my money, everything burned up," she said.
The Lima News Ohio 1944-10-21
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