An Awful Catastrophe.
The worst accident in Spain occurred at Santander on the evening of November 3, when over 1000 persons were killed at a fire on a ship containing fifty cases of dynamite. The Cabo Machicaeo was discharging 2000 tons of iron and many barrels of petroleum and flour and several wine sacks. The captain had declared only twenty cases of dynamite. Otherwise she would not have been allowed to dock. The fire started at three o’clock on Friday afternoon in the coal bunkers. The customs officers and police hastened to remove the twenty cases of dynamite, which soon were landed at a safe distance from the vessel. A tug was then chartered to tow the Cabo Machicaeo seaward.
Meantime desperate efforts had been made to quench the flames. The captain and crew of the steamer Alfonso XII. boarded the burning vessel to help fight the flames. They worked for an hour and a half without success. At the end of that time the fire reached the petroleum. Then came a series of awful explosions as the flames went from barrel to barrel of petroleum until they reached the contraband dynamite. The tug had been moored alongside the vessel and many townspeople had gone aboard to satisfy their curiosity and to help extinguish the fire. Then came the explosion of the dynamite. All on board the Cabo Machicaeo and many along the dock were blown to atoms. The tug vanished.
The quay with its enormous crowd of spectators rose slowly in the air. The people were scattered in every direction into the sea and up on the land. Firebrands fell in showers over sea and land for a radius of a mile and a half. The Cabo Machicaco’s anchor was hurled 800 yards and fell on the balcony of a house, which it completely wrecked. It then sank deep in the pavement below. The shock was felt in every part of the city. Houses rocked to their foundations and more than 100 were set on fire by the falling brands. The destruction in the harbor was equally appalling. The launch of the steamer Alfonso XII., which was lying alongside and contained all the crew not aboard the Machicaeo, vanished with the others. The survivors ashore fled shrieking, leaving the promenade adjoining the quay strewn with dead and dying and mangled remnants of human bodies. Wherever the frightened fugitives turned they met horrors added to horrors in the wrecked and burning buildings, from which came piteous cries for help.
Many of the fugitives were thrown down and trampled upon, and many are said to have lost their reason. The people were too panic stricken to think of anything but saving their own or their relatives’ lives. Whon at first a few persons recovered their presence of mind it was at once resolved to telegraph an appeal for help to the government and the municipal authorities of other cities. Every available surgeon was summoned to the scene, and such supplies of medicines, stimulants, bandages, etc., as could be hurriedly collected were distributed where they would do most good.
When night fell the sky luridly reflected the fires burning fiercely in various parts of the city, Mendez Nunez street, running parallel with the quay, was ablaze from end to end. In the blinding light and heat the bands of rescuers worked ter extricate the dead and wounded. On every side were scenes of indescribable confusion and overwhelming grief. The sea was tossed as if by an earthquake, tremendous waves broke up over the water front and large vessels were tossed like shells against the dock. The tragic incidents noticed would fill pages. A father was seen carrying home a wounded daughter. When he arrived he found the house in flames. While watching the fire, almost demented, the girl died in his arms.
It was stated that the contraband dynamite was concealed beneath a lot of iron and rawhides in the lower hold of the vessel, adjoining the bunker, where the fire started. The reports conflict regarding the stowage of the contraband dynamite and the quantity of the explosive. Probably the exact truth will never be known, because everybody who could throw any light upon the matter, including the customs officers, was killed. Eye-witnesses say that the effect of the explosion resembled the result of a violent earthquake. Water, mud and stones from the bottom of the harbor were thrown high into the air as if’ by a geyser. The fire burned unchecked throughout the night, block after block sank in ruins. Every street near the water front was filled with the noise of crashing buildings. The people were terror stricken. Thousands abandoned their homes and fled to the fields or outlying villages. Others remained to search frantically among the heaps of ruins and half burned bodies for their lost friends and relatives. Children whose parents were dead wandered weeping through the streets calling for help.
During Saturday morning as many of them as possible were collected at the town hall, and were fed and clothed. In the afternoon many injured persons, insane from terror or pain, were found crouching in alleyways and outhouses far from the scenes of the fire. Most of the houses left standing are as empty as though plague stricken. The occupants, who fled on the night of the fire, have been afraid to return to the scene of the horror which they then witnessed.
Many remarkable scenes have been reported. One man in the crowd on the quay was thrown high into the air, came down upon a load of vegetables and was able to scramble to his feet and run away. Another man in the crowd was hurled into the sea, where he grasped a piece of floating timber and swam back to land at some distance from the spot where the explosion occurred. He was too weak to climb the sea wall and remained benumbed half unconscious in the water for hours before he was rescued.
Among the prominent people believed to have been blown to atoms is the Governor of the province, who was last seen in the front rank of those fighting the fire, and who displayed most praiseworthy zeal and activity in giving the orders necessary to protect houses adjacent to the burning ship from catching fire. The Governor, however, has not been seen since the explosion occurred, and there seems little or no doubt that he met death with the others who were upon the wharf a moment before the dynamite blew the ship and wharf into splinters. _