Chicago Crib Explosion.
On January 20 an explosion, followed by fire, wrecked the wooden crib of the submarine tunnel for the Chicago waterworks, located a mile and a half from shore of lake Michigan. About sixty men were blown to pieces, burned to death or drowned in the icy waters of the lake, and nearly a score more may die from their injuries. The men were engaged in boring a tunnel 150 ft. under the lake to connect with a land tunnel, through which additional water is to be supplied to the southern part of the city. A shaft had been sunk in the lake, and the tunnel, which has been two years under construction, was well on its way to shore. Surmounting the shaft was a 2-story frame structure called a “crib,” in which were the machinery and materials used in the work, and in which have been housed, since cold weather appeared, most of the employes— some ninety-five or more. Two large coal stoves heated the structure. Beneath it and adjoining the shaft was an engine and hoisting machinery. Two tons of dynamite, a lot of fulminating caps and several barrels of oil were stored near the engine. The earth from the tunnel was hoisted and sent ashore on an aerial trolley cable, supported by towers in the lake. By the explosion the crib was completely broken up, and sixty men in it were killed. Air was shut off from the shift caught in the tunnel, 150 ft. below, and those thus shut off met death by suffocation. The survivors were rescued by tugs, which, owing to the high sea ruling in the lake, had the greatest difficulty in doing the work.
On whom the responsibility for the disaster rests is the question. Each city department switches it off on the other and declares it had no jurisdiction in the matter. Certainly it was not the duty of the fire department to inspect structures such as the intermediate crib, and in that particular case it was never called on by the building department to do so. The public works department of the city seems the one responsible for such a structure. It was specified in the contract with the George W. Jackson company that precautions should be taken against lire. There was no specification that the structure be of steel. The contractors claim that it would be absolutely impossible for them to erect a steel crib for temporary purposes, unless it were paid for by the city. If the city had been willing to pay for a steel intermediary crib, the contractors say they certainly would have had no objection to erecting it. Criminal prosecutions may be the outcome.
Among the charges being made by the survivors are the following: That but little fire apparatus was kept on hand; that the fire extinguishers about the place were useless; that the dynamite was carelessly handled, and tnat on several occasions explosions were narrowly averted; that the building was poorly constructed, and was a veritable firetrap; that the blasts in the tunnel racked and swayed the structure almost as though it were piece of paper; that the only method of fire was the aerial tramway, which carried but a few persons at a time, and was slow in operation.
Theories as to the cause of the disaster are being formed. One is that bedbugs had infested the structure and lay hid in the cracks between the pine boards. A negro workman, to destroy them, had secured gasoline and poured it into the cracks. The gasoline vapor took fire from the redhot stoves that warmed the building, with the result that the whole structure burst into flame. Another theory is that the fire started near the west door, where the dynamite is kept. One man said that a torch fell from a cap of a miner as he got out of the buck e t, and dropped on a stick of dynamite lying on the floor. The explosive began to burn, frightening . the men so that they be|. came panic stricken. This theory may be a true one, as not a man escaped by the west door, which was cut off by ; sheet of flames. But. un less the dynamite were jarred, it would burn harmlessly and w’ould not explode.
Why a tug in immediate waiting was not always in attendance and moored to the crib, is a point that may have to be cleared up. The aerial tramway was not sufficiently reliable. In the first place it was de stroyed by the explosion, in the second it afforded no facilities for rapid escape from the danger.