Swift & Co. explosion

A deadly explosion that ripped through the east side of the Swift & Co. plant on Dec. 14, 1949, left 21 people dead and 90 injured. The explosion was caused by a leak in a natural gas pipe.

SIOUX CITY | A deadly explosion that ripped through the east side of the Swift & Co. plant on Dec. 14, 1949, left 21 people dead and 90 injured.

The explosion was caused by a leak in a natural gas pipe that entered the plant through a basement shipping department storage room. There was no fire, just one explosion and its concussive waves. It blew out doors, pulverized stairwells, heaved concrete floors like ice floes and twisted massive steel cables into grotesque forms.

The plant's clocks stopped at 11:33 a.m.

About 700 people worked in the plant, where cattle, hogs and sheep were killed and processed.

All available firefighters and police officers quickly joined volunteers in the search for survivors. Because there weren’t enough ambulances, many of the injured were driven to hospitals in private vehicles. Gov. William S. Beardsley authorized mobilization of the National Guard to help in the disaster. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross set up canteen stations to serve coffee and sandwiches to victims and rescuers

Ammonia and gas fumes began to spread through the area as the rescue attempt continued, creating fear of another explosion. Police using loudspeakers warned people not to smoke. Some rescuers wore gas masks to prevent being overcome by the fumes.

Swift & Co. mechanics used hacksaws to cut through the wreckage and clear a way for rescuers. Automobile wreckers and a huge airplane wrecker from the Air National Guard were brought in to help clear the heavy steel girders.

The Journal reported that the injured were taken to all four of the city's hospitals. A makeshift morgue was set up in the Naval Reserve Center, where two priests administered last rites. Hundreds of workers' family members milled around, hoping against the worst.

Sioux Cityans lined up to donate blood. Swift & Co. executives flew in from Chicago to reassure employees and survey the damage, estimated at $1 million.

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