TEXAS CITY

A True Story

Written by Jay H. Thames

On April 16th, 1947, the largest man-made disaster in U.S. history destroyed Texas City, TX.  This is the TRUE story of everyday people who became unsuspecting heroes on that fateful day.

Texas City is the home of the worst industrial accident in U.S history, and the largest explosion ever on U.S. soil.  Those that survived were forced to band together, to try and save their town, their neighbors, their families -- and themselves.  Heroes were born that day.  This is the story of four of them.

***

On a pristine, quiet morning on April 16, 1947, it was business as usual in Texas City, Texas.  Families ate breakfast.  Men and women prepared for work.  Children packed book bags for school.  It was idyllic.

And... Money was being made hand over fist -- all driven by the largest employer in town -- Monsanto Chemical.

The docks were buzzing with activity.  The brand new Monsanto plant glimmered in the sunlight as longshoremen loaded the French sipping vessel Grandcamp with cargo in slip 1.  They carried sacks of ammunition, twine, and huge amounts of fertilizer -- ammonium nitrate -- to re-sod the fields of France destroyed in WWII bombing raids.  Two slips away, The High Flyer, was being loaded in the exact same fashion.  

8:00 AM - the ships were packed to capacity with the government subsidized fertilizer, almost ready to sail...

...But a fire breaks out in the bowels of the Grandcamp.  The ship captain tries to smother it.  Lustrous orange plumes of smoke bloom into the air.  A massive throng gathers at the docks to watch.  It was a spectacle.

At the Thames house, things aren’t so great.  Head of the family and WWII vet Jesse, is up early, preparing an insurance policy for Monsanto CEO J.R. Mares.  His obsession with work and helping Texas City grow has created a chasm between him and his wife Betty.

Jesse delivers the policy with his partner Jim Battle to Mr. Mares.  The meeting doesn’t sit right with Jesse, but knowing what he did was good for the city, he leaves, somewhat satisfied. 

On The Grandcamp, Tommy Teague, an ambitious African American, deals with unconcealed racism.  When the fire starts in the holding bay, Tommy is trapped behind a metal portal.  Unable to swim, he watches as water boils around the base of the ship it’s so hot. 

In the crowd watching is Jackie, a stoic woman stifling tears as her young daughter Eleanor laments the loss of her father, Jackie's husband, in WWII.  Jackie composes herself, strong for her daughter, as she leads Eleanor away from the docks and up the road to school, hurrying from the scene, and her feelings.

And then things got very, very still.

BOOM.

The explosion is the size of an atomic bomb, felt 1500 miles away in Denver.  No one on the docks survives.  And what came next was a disaster unlike anything mankind has ever witnessed: rampant fires and tank explosions, a 20’ tidal wave, and a toxic cloud two miles wide -- all part of the worst industrial accident in U.S. history.

Survivors scramble through the fresh, hot rubble, thinking it's World War III.  Some shout "the Russians dropped the a-bomb" as chaotic masses hurry to safety.  Body parts are strewn about the streets like confetti at a parade. 

Over 600 people die and thousands more are injured.  No one in the immediate area is spared.  No one except Tommy.  He miraculously survives as he goes airborne, protected by the portal.

A tidal wave littered with fire and debris pounds inland, killing even more innocents. 

Jesse tries to save his partner Jim, but his injuries overcome him.  After imploring his wife and children to head to Houston, Jesse attempts to save what’s left of the only town he has ever known.  He heads toward The High Flyer, to tug it out into the Gulf, hoping to reach a safe distance before it explodes and completely annihilates what remains of his beloved Texas City.

Tommy finds a terrified Eleanor separated from Jackie and carries her through the destruction, searching for her mother.  A distraught Jackie scans the injured masses, frantically looking for her daughter when a doctor yanks her into a makeshift triage at the medical clinic. He needs her help saving lives. 

Tommy drops Eleanor at the same clinic, mother and daughter barely missing one another in the pandemonium.  Tommy warns the staff to evacuate.  If the toxic orange cloud that’s gathering overhead reaches the city, everyone’s dead.

Tommy returns to the harbor where the oncoming explosion and want to save their town unifies him and Jesse.  They realize The High Flyer needs to be evacuated and pulled out to sea, or they’ll all die.  Jesse and Tommy attempt a near suicidal mission on a listing tugboat chained to The High Flyer.  The massive, flaming ship will only go so far before it’s grounded, and they are forced to head back to shore. The two courageous men part ways after sharing a mutual salute, both off to fulfill recently forged promises.

Jesse finds a guilty Mares hiding in a Monsanto vehicle, and a fight ensues.  Jesse finally knocks him out cold and heads out of town with Mares unconscious in the back.  Jesse then notices Jackie, on a mission of her own and yet to reunite with her daughter Eleanor, or even confirm she’s still alive. 

The line to leave Texas City is backed up for miles, and traffic is at a standstill.  People scuttle out of town carrying everything they own, a line of refugees escaping a veritable war zone.  Jesse and Jackie must comb the throng, back toward Texas City – and the oncoming blast - into harms way once again.

Tommy reunites with Eleanor, guaranteeing he will fulfill his promise to help her find her mother.  They run to the only place that’s safe, the road out of town, joining the massive throng of refugees, searching every face for Jackie.

The orange cloud hovers overhead, creeping toward the crowd, and finally catching up to all the escaping refugees.  They’re seconds away from death.  Including our four heroes.  When…

BOOM! 

The explosion on The High Flyer rocks the earth and sucks the toxic cloud out to sea, saving the remaining survivors.

Betty returns to Texas City after safely securing her children with her parents in Houston. Jesse and Betty reunite.  He apologizes and professes his love.  She runs her fingers through his hair.  They kiss.

With Tommy’s help, Eleanor and Jackie find each other, another tearful reunion amid survivors: widows and wounded.

Our heroes were the lucky ones.  Their joy is overshadowed by the horror of the explosions that will forever live in infamy on the darkest, deadliest day the United States has ever known.  On April 16, 1947 in…

TEXAS CITY