Syracuse Post-Standard, February 19, 1916
Five men were killed and five seriously injured at 8:45 o’clock last night, when a tank containing acid exploded in the benzol recovery plant of the Semet-Solvay Company at Split Rock.
Three men were killed instantly, another died in an ambulance on the way to this city and the fifth at the Hospital of the Good Shepherd early this morning.
At 3 o’clock this morning surgeons who were caring for the injured said that all would recover.
Lyman Green, 300 Cogswell Avenue, Solvay
William J. Guckert, 111 Hartson Street
Max Lepedus, 314 Renwick Avenue
William Curran, 815 West Genesee Street
Harry Danser, Skaneateles
John McKeever, 535 East Washington Street
Daniel Fitzgerald, 427 Montgomery Street
George Griswold, 814 Madison Street
John W. Osbeck, 814 Onondaga Avenue
John Masters, Marcellus
The three-story building that housed the two acid tanks was wrecked. A burst of flame that followed the explosion blew out windows in adjoining buildings and threatened to destroy the huge plant that has sprung up at Split Rock in the past year. The shock of the blast was felt in several sections of Syracuse.
A blinding snowstorm prevented aid from reaching those who were injured. Ambulances from the city carrying physicians were frequently stalled in snowdrifts, and it was not until early this morning that details of the accident were obtainable.
A strong cordon of guards and special police surrounded the Split Rock plant. Reporters who succeeded in forcing a way through the snow-blocked roads were unable to pierce these lines until officials of the company issued general orders admitting them.
Semet-Solvay officials made every effort to gather a concise report of the accident and learn the cause of the explosion. It was not until after midnight, however, that the first statements were received.
The building in which the explosion occurred was built into a side hill and so constructed that in case of an explosion the brick work on the side walls would be thrown outward, leaving the framework and upper portions standing.
The main floor is on a level with the ground on the upper side. This floor is about twenty feet above the floor of the story below, which opens on the lower ground level. Two tanks containing acid were on the lower floor, and it was one of these tanks that exploded.
The building was constructed with an independent framework which supports the upper roof and floor. Between the upright timbers one course of brick was laid to keep out the weather, but in no way held up the structure. When the tank blew out, the walls were demolished, a great part of the machinery was wrecked, but only part of the structure was destroyed.
Twelve workmen were in the building when the tank exploded. Those killed instantly were blown through the side walls. Others who were hurled several feet were buried beneath piles of bricks. The men who are injured were badly burned by the liberated acid and seriously affected by the heavy fumes.
The terrific report caused a near panic in neighboring homes of employees and among workmen in other buildings. Flames leaped up as the echo of the report died, and for a few minutes it was feared the plant would be fire swept.
Two lines of hose were played upon the flames by workmen and, because of the peculiar construction of the building, the fire was easily subdued.
Heavy gas fumes filled the air, however, and workmen feared to go to the rescue of those who had been injured. It was nearly a quarter of an hour before the first body was pulled from beneath a heap of wreckage. Within the next few minutes the injured had been carried to a nearby lunch room and the other two bodies had been recovered.
A general call for ambulances was sent to this city, but because of the drifting snow they were unable to reach Split Rock before 10 o’clock. Two of the dying men and three others were taken to Syracuse in the Hospital of the Good Shepherd ambulance. The Crouse-Irving ambulance took two more to the Hospital of the Good Shepherd.
Harry Danser died just as the ambulance arrived at the hospital. William Curran died in the operating room a few hours after his arrival.
Martin H. Knapp, assistant to the president of the Solvay Process Company, who gave out the first statement, said the explosion was caused by too much pressure applied to one of the tanks in the building.
“The investigation has not been completed,” he said, “but it is apparent that no explosive material caused the accident. More probably too much of the liquid was forced into the tank and the explosion resulted."
Workmen who were injured when the tank let go confirmed Mr. Knapp’s statement. Daniel Fitzgerald, who was not seriously injured, said it was not an explosion of the acid itself, but of the tank.
Several other company officials were investigating last night and early this morning.
Coroner S. Ellis Crane, who was notified of the accident before 10 o’clock, attempted to reach the scene immediately, but did not arrive at Split Rock until after 11:30 p.m.
At that time the bodies of the three workmen who were instantly killed in the explosion had not yet been removed to the county morgue in this city.
That no outward influence had anything to do with the accident is manifest, according to workmen and company officials. Today, it was said, a technical explanation of the tank’s blowout will be given by the company’s experts.
Among workmen, the building where the explosion occurred is known as TNT Plant No. 2. Fourteen men are employed at or near the two tanks in the building on each shift. Last night, however, only twelve men were at work when the acid tank exploded.
Those nearest the tank had no time to escape or to make a move in self-protection. The acid blew out without warning, carrying the walls, machinery and men in its path before it.
Those who were not fatally injured were near the other tank and not in the direct path of the blowout. These men inhaled poisonous gases, however, and received serious acid burns.
Private touring cars and the horse-drawn ambulance of the Solvay Process Hospital aided in bringing the injured to this city. Workmen at the plant did heroic work in rescuing the injured after the flames had been put out and the fumes of gas had disappeared.
Coroner Crane announced this morning that an inquest will be held, but the date has not been decided. Today he will take statements from the injured at the Hospital of the Good Shepherd and will continue his investigation at the scene of the explosion.
The explosion did not interfere with the operation of the other Semet-Solvay plants at Split Rock. After the dead and injured had been removed, men resumed their work as if nothing had happened.
The machinery of the benzol recovery building will be replaced immediately and the building reconstructed, so that there will be no hitch in the operation of the company, it was said last night.