Lightning Blamed for Big Jersey Arsenal Explosions
Thousands Made Homeless by Wrecked Homes—Wind Changed Course of Flames and Saved Many Explosives
LIGHTNING which is believed to have struck a powder magazine in the United States Naval Munition Depot at Lake Denmark, near Dover, N. J., caused four explosions of gigantic proportions. The force of the blasts were felt in an area about thirty miles distant from the depot—automobiles were hurled off the highways—doors were torn from their hinges—portions of the exploded shells were imbedded in walls and masonry. Fire broke out intermittingly in various districts and revealed the intensity of the havoc.
One out of every ten windows in Dover was broken by the explosion. Many of the residents took in the homeless—the Moose Hall and the Elks Club as well as many of the public buildings were converted into temporary hospitals; churches were opened to care for those made homeless.
Ten arc known to have died from the explosion, twenty marines, one soldier and about ten of the civilians are reported missing. There is a possibility that private property damage will reach more than $100,000,000. Arrangements were made for a thorough naval investigation and for consultation with the legal department to ascertain the extent to which the Navy Department is responsible to the civilian population.
Bombardment of Over Twenty-four Hours
For more than twenty-four hours, 16-inch armor-piercing shells, 14-inch and smaller calibre shells were exploding, throwing their projectiles in all directions. As the fire advanced, the heat caused additional stores to explode. Vast flames from the fires illuminated the four mile area of building ruins. A lull in the wind and a change in its direction, is one of the reasons why all of the stores of ammunition and powder did not fall prey to the advancing flames. Had more of the shells exploded, there is no estimating how great the resulting damage would have been.
All of the medical aid in the locality worked incessantly in caring for the injured and aided in reuniting families that were separated as they fled panic-stricken from the section of the bursting shells. Some of the nurses worked constantly for forty-eight hours.
Before the fire had a chance to cool, and while many of the shells were still bursting, Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis, accompanied by a staff of generals, made a survey of the place. After having penetrated the danger zone, Secretary of War Davis said that he was convinced that the government must adopt a new policy of arsenal planning. Buildings must be more widely separated so that powder and ammunition magazines would be less likely to explode by contact when one explodes. Secretary Davis said he believed that the damage on the army reservation would be between $1,500,000 and $2,000,000 but this statement was later corrected to $5,000,000.
Ambulances were rushed to the scene from the Naval Hospital at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Government Expects Opposition to Reconstruction
The government expects that there will be considerable opposition to the reconstruction of the buildings there. Only sixteen of the magazines were underground, and only a few of the buildings were erected prior to the World War. The buildings at this depot were fifty feet in width, and were fourteen feet from the ground to the underside of the roof framing—the lengths of the buildings varied up to 250 feet. The standard construction consisted of terra cotta, hollow tile walls, stuccoed on the outside. The columns and the girders were of steel; ventilators were installed to reduce the heat caused by the sun’s rays beating down on the roof of the buildings.
Await Airplane Pictures of Explosion with Interest
While the devastation was going on, newspaper camera men in airplanes took pictures of the “various buildings on fire, and of the area in general. The naval court of inquiry are awaiting with interest the showing of these pictures, as a great deal of information will be gained from them. Some of the officials advance the theory that the fire was not caused by the lightning striking the ammunition stores as the buildings were equipped with lightning rods properly grounded. The pictures, it is believed, will answer this statement.
In addition to the ammunition storage depot that exploded at L.akc Drummond, other depots are located at New London, Conn.; Fort Lafayette, N. Y.; Charleston, S. C.; Olongapo, P. I.; Cavite, P. L, and New Orleans, La.