A Second of Silence, Then in the Blink of an Eye…
On December 6, 1917, the town of Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) was destroyed by the explosion of a cargo ship loaded with military explosives. About two thousand people were killed and almost ten thousands were injured. Until the first nuclear blast, it was the largest man-made explosion in recorded history with an equivalent force of 2.9 kilotons of TNT.
“Hold up the train. Ammunition Ship Afire in Harbour Making for Pier 6 and will Explode. Guess this will be My Last Message. Goodbye Boys.”
Final Communication from Railway Dispatcher Patrick Vincent Coleman
At 9:04:35 Mont-Blanc exploded with a force stronger than any manmade explosion before it.
The steel hull burst sky-high, falling in a blizzard of red-hot, twisted projectiles on Dartmouth and Halifax.
Some pieces were tiny; others were huge. Part of the anchor hit the ground more than 4 kilometers away on the far side of Northwest Arm. A gun barrel landed in Dartmouth more than 5 kilometers from the harbour.
The explosion sent a white cloud billowing 20,000 feet above the city.
For almost two square kilometers around Pier 6, nothing was left standing. The blast obliterated most of Richmond: its homes, apartments and even the towering sugar refinery. On the Dartmouth side, Tuft’s Cove took the brunt of the blast. The small settlement of Turtle Grove was obliterated.
More than 1600 people were killed outright; hundreds more would die in the hours and days to come. Nine thousand people, many of whom might have been safe if they hadn’t come to watch the fire, were injured by the blast, falling buildings and flying shards of glass.
And it wasn’t over yet.
Within minutes the dazed survivors were awash in water. The blast provoked a tsunami that washed up as high as 20 meters above the harbour’s high-water mark on the Halifax side.
People who were blown off their feet by the explosion, now hung on for their lives as water rushed over the shoreline, through the dockyard and beyond Campbell Road (now Barrington Street).
The tsunami lifted Imo onto the Dartmouth shore. The ship stayed there until spring.
The tsunami created by the explosion swept through the damaged areas, scouring the land and leaving bare mud piled with debris. Fireplaces and furnaces caused fires in other areas, leaving acres of charred wreckage.
By 9:15 a.m. on Thursday, December 6, 1917, a major Canadian city lay in rubble, and most of the undamaged area had no water or heat. All communication was lost with the outside world; the city had no telephone service.
That night, a blizzard hit the region, bringing gale force winds and temperatures of 10-15 F. Thick, wet snow soon hid the victims, hindered the rescuers, and halted relief trains; by morning, ice coated the streets and hills.
The Halifax Explosion was the largest man-made explosion until the first atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.