HOW AN EXPLOSION WRECKED OFFICES OF A GAS COMPANY
Disastrous Effects of Blast, Probably from Illuminating Gas—Three Lives Lost and Many Injured
THE disastrous effects of an explosion, probably of illuminating gas, are well illustrated by the picture shown herewith. The blast occurred in the building of the Laclede Gas Company, at St. Louis, Mo., a couple of months ago, and caused the loss of three lives and injury to 51 persons, The intensity of the explosion is shown by the widespread damage to the interior of the structure. Practically all of the furniture and fixtures in the main office were destroyed, even the ceiling being shaken down. The illustration shows the main office and salesroom of the company on the ground floor. The time of the explosion is fixed by the clock shown in the balcony railing, which stopped at four minutes past 2 o’clock.
Courtesy, St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
There was some doubt as to whether the initial explosion was caused by the ignition of leaking illuminating gas or the blowing up of several ammonia tanks situated in the basement of the ten Story building.
Fire followed in the wake of the explosion, the flames shooting up a freight elevator shaft to the tenth floor where it did its greatest damage before under control one hour and a half after the blast. The 400 persons employed in the building were thrown into panic, and many were more or less injured by flying debris or overcome by the fumes.
Ammonia was kept in the basement to supply ice-making machines, while there was a quantity in pipes from a refrigerating plant for cooling purposes. W. J. Coates, in charge of the pipe line department of the St. Louis Refrigerating and Cold Storage Company, testified that there was no ammonia tank in the building large enough to cause such damage, and there was no ammonia tank connected with the company’s system, which runs a pipe line from its refrigerating station at the foot of O’Fallon street. “I understand the Laclede Company has been demonstrating small ice machines for home use, and these are operated by gas,” Mr. Coates said. He explained that ammonia, even under moderate pressure, such as is employed in the water cooling system, is not combustible, much less explosive, but that in combination with fuel gas it is highly combustible. Thus, the force of the first explosion released both ammonia gas and fuel gas, according to his explanation of the probabilities, and this in turn disrupted the much larger supply of ammonia gas in the water cooling system, producing the blast which caused the disaster.
The fact that the inspector of the St. Louis Refrigerating Company was at his work in the building when the explosion occurred, caused Mr. Coates to doubt whether the water cooling system was at fault.