Many Killed and Injured in St. Paul Blast
A terrific explosion tore apart the interior of the six-story minerals building of the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co., in St. Paul, Minn., on February 8th, resulting in the death of eleven persons and inquiries to 59.
The blast came at 8:15 A.M. shortly after the day shift had reported for work, and rocked a wide section of St. Paul’s East side where the company’s plant is located, at 900 Fauquier avenue, near E. Seventh.
The minerals building, known as Building 12, a reinforced concrete structure, is used for the handling of various granules or grits used on abrasives backed by cloth or paper. Dust from the handling of the grits is considered extremely explosive. The building also housed various types of resins used to bind abrasives to the backing. Butane gas was reported used in the plant and at the time of the explosion a truck driver for the Northwest Hydrogen Co., of St. Paul, was delivering 500 gallons of liquid butane at the plant. His truck was 150 feet from the minerals building when the blast came, but the driver, Edward Ryback, knocked from the truck and although injured in the concussion, crawled back and managed to shut off all safety valves before collapsing.
Although butane gas was tentatively blamed for the explosion, which apparently originated in the basement of the building, company officials expressed doubt that it was wholly responsible. Investigations started immediately after the accident by Federal Bureau of Investigation and Fire and Insurance officials, have not thus far developed the cause.
Damage from the explosion was conservatively estimated at well over $1 million. Following the tragedy, only supervisors and other top officials of the 5000 and more employes of the company were allowed in the ruined structure, which suffered fire as well as explosion damage. Because the company was engaged in defense work, the possibilities of sabotage were not overlooked by investigating agencies.
It is said that in the 20 years of operation the plant never had an accident more serious than a minor fire.
An employe, who said he was on the fifth floor of the minerals building at the time of the blast and smelled gas, was informed “a pipe had broken in the basement.” A machinist was reported to have started down the stairway for the basement when the “floor just rose up.” Bystanders said it looked like a blockbuster had struck the building.
The concrete first floor was pulverized; huge holes were punched in the second floor and the interior of the structure was a shambles. A box car was blown over on a nearby siding, and nearly 40 per cent of the glass southern wall of the neighboring Northern Malleable Iron Co. was blown out by the explosion. Its employes escaped, however, as did those of the Seeger Refrigerator Co. express building nearby, which had 15 glass panes blown out.
The blast created a brief panic among some of the “3-M” employes working on the sixth floor of the involved building.
Holes were punched in the floor and the stairs blocked by broken concrete. All elevators were blocked. However, all but the badly injured managed to escape or were helped from the ruins.
Across the street is the company’s large main office building, occupied by several hundred employes. The concussion plunged the elevator car to the bottom of the shaft but the operator, who had stepped out of it a moment before, was uninjured. Between 800 and 1000 persons were in the series of buildings comprising the plant, all of which are connected by passageways or tunnels. The concussion of the explosion traveled through tunnels southerly into an eight-story general manufacturing building and fumes also swept into the office building, which was ordered evacuated. Other structures in the plant area also suffered various damage.
Fire, which broke out in the plant wreckage following the explosion, was controlled by St. Paul firemen who responded quickly on alarms turned in at the plant, followed by special calls for additional equipment. Fire Chief William. Mattocks was in charge of operations.
Among the emergency forces in operation were twelve fire department units and twelve St. Paul police squads; two police and four private ambulances from St. Paul, one from White Bear Lake and one from North St. Paul; thirty St. Paul detectives, and four squads of Ramsey county sheriff’s deputies, and twelve State highway patrolmen.
Three panel trucks of a laundry company delivering laundry to the plant were pressed into service as emergency ambulances,at the outset. Three Minneapolis fire companies were shifted into St. Paul to cover vacated districts, and a Minneapolis smoke extractor was sped to the wrecked plant to help remove lingering fumes. In addition, a Red Cross canteen unit went into operation serving coffee to rescue crews, who were handicapped by the sub-zero temperatures.
Blood was requested to help hospitals and emergency rescue crews in treating the many casualties, and there was an immediate response to the blood bank, 47 pints of whole blood and 18 plasma units being dispatched within an hour and a half from the blast. Additional whole blood was sent from other areas, together with blankets and other equipment. Salvation Army workers also aided in feeding firemen and other rescuers.