Worst Accidents and Natural Disasters in Texas History

Texas has had its share of horrifying accidents over the years. From unexpected explosions to natural disasters, the worst incidents destroy communities, homes, and lives. Accidents are a terrible part of life, but they also show the true strength of Texans who come together to help those in need. Here are some of the worst incidents in our state’s history:

1. The Texas City Disaster (1947)

On April 16, 1947, the SS Grandcamp exploded while moored in Texas City. The French ship’s cargo included ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer and highly explosive substance. The entire ship, dock area, and 1000 nearby homes and buildings were completely destroyed and subsequent fires and smoke caused problems throughout the city. The initial explosion killed 26 firemen and destroyed all firefighting equipment. Around 576 individuals lost their lives that day.

Another ship, SS High Flyer, was also carrying ammonium nitrate nearby. The ship caught fire during the first explosion, but the ship was towed away from the mainland before it exploded 16 hours later.

2. New London School Explosion (1937)

In March of 1937, a natural gas leak caused a deadly explosion at a school in New London, Texas. 219 teachers and students lost their lives because of the initial explosion and subsequent structural collapse.

The explosion occurred at 3:17 PM when the manual training instructor turned on a sanding machine. The machine was in an area filled with natural gas. Turning on the machine ignited the air and the flame moved under the building before exploding, destroying the building from the ground up.

3. Unnamed Hurricane in Galveston (1900)

An estimated 6-8,000 individuals lost their lives during this category 4 hurricane. Weather forecasters issued a warning for tourists and residents to move to higher ground in time, but many of the warnings were ignored. When a 15-foot surge flooded the city, many buildings and residences were destroyed. The hurricane still holds the record for the worst (in terms of fatalities) weather-caused disaster in the nation’s history.

4. Delta Airlines Flight 191 Crash (1985)

The crash occurred at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport the evening of August 2nd. It was a rainy Friday, and the jet hit a microburst – a downdraft that is particularly hazardous for aircraft – and struck the ground, killing 136 onboard. 27 survived the impact. According to the investigation, the pilot was skilled in many areas, but lacked adequate training for reacting to microbursts.

5. Central Texas Flood (1921)

During September of 1921, Austin and San Antonio experienced a record-breaking 38 inches of rainfall within a 24-hour window. 224 individuals died, and the natural disaster caused $10 million in damage. According to records, it is the worst flood in state history. Austin is still one of the most flood-prone areas in the state.

6. Waco Tornado (1953)

Texas has seen its share of tornadoes, but none as deadly as the Waco tornado that occurred in May of 1953. The twister touched down in Lorena and proceeded northeast growing to 1/3 mile wide upon reaching Waco. It was a F5 tornado that left a 23-mile swatch of destruction that destroyed 600 homes and 1000 buildings. During the siege and aftermath, 114 individuals died and 597 suffered injury.

7. Phillips Petroleum Co. Plant Explosion (1989)

During this tragic explosion on October 23, 1989, 23 people died and another 130 were injured. Inadequate safety precautions caused the explosion in the polyethylene reactor at the Pasadena area complex. The plant had cut the budget in one area that really mattered – maintenance. Unfortunately, the plant had no detection systems in place when 85,000 pounds of ethylene-isobutane gas filled the interior of the plant and ignited.