A huge tower of flames and smoke, seen up to forty miles away,
marked the spot where an explosion, caused by an unexpected chemical reaction,
ruptured a huge tank of styrene at what was then a Shell Chemical plant, now Kraton
Polymers, in Belpre Township.
About 150 firefighters from departments in two states responded to
the call for help.
This reporter was among the first on the scene and broadcast live
reports on WMOA and ONN radio throughout the day.
The most memorable moment came as I was reporting from the press
pool location, in the parking lot of the Belpre Church of Christ late that
While on-air, I looked up and saw a parade of fire engines racing away
from the scene
and past the church.
They had run out of fire-fighting foam.
As urgently as possible, hundreds of residents were evacuated from Porterfield,
Blennerhassett Heights, and the portion of Belpre west of Farson Street.
Former sheriff Bob Schlicher later told us that officials simply could not explain
why the entire
tank farm did not explode that day. He said that, had the expected blast occurred, the results would have been unimaginably worse.
Eventually, more foam arrived from Columbus and some very brave
firefighters used it to douse the roaring blaze.
Then, at mid-afternoon on that warm Friday, the community's fears
were confirmed. There had been fatalities.
Mike Harris of Reedsville, George Nutter of Coolville, and Gary
Reed of Williamstown had been at the spot where the initial explosion occurred.
They had been killed instantly.
In the years since, millions of dollars have been spent on safety
and communications improvements, by industry and government.
But the memory of that day - and of how much worse it could have
been - will linger for many years to come.