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425 Children Die as Gas Explosion Shatters School (1937)

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Sound | 1937

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    • About the video
    • The New London Gas Explosi... The New London Gas Explosion
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    Believed to have been filmed by Hugh Jamieson, this newsreel covers the tragic events of the New London School Explosion that occurred on March 18, 1937 when a massive gas explosion destroyed the New London Junior-Senior High School, killing an estimated 298 students, teachers, and visitors. As a result of the explosion, legislation was passed requiring an odor to be added to natural gas so that leaks may be detected.
    On March 18, 1937 at 3:20 p.m., ten minutes before the final bell of the school day, a massive explosion destroyed the New London Junior-Senior High School, killing an estimated 298 students, teachers, and visitors. The newly-built New London School in northwest Rusk County was the pride of the London School District, which was one of the wealthiest school districts in the nation. The region was established as a result of the East Texas oil boom of the 1930s, and the school, literally surrounded by derricks, served many surrounding communities whose families worked for Hunt, Gulf, Humble, Sinclair, Atlantic, and Tidewater oil companies, among others. The New London School was heated using odorless, invisible natural gas from oil field lines that were illegally tapped into, a common practice in small oil towns. A leak caused a pocket of the natural gas to form in a large basement area that was then ignited by a spark from an electric sander being used in shop class. The roof of the building lifted and crashed down on the school, collapsing the structure. The explosion was heard for miles, its force strong enough to carry a 2 ton concrete slab 200 feet away from the building.The community immediately rushed to the site of the school, now a mess of concrete and steel debris. The oil companies suspended work in the fields to allow their workers to aid in the rescue efforts. Men moved debris for days, uncovering survivors and bodies that were moved to temporary morgues erected in buildings throughout Rusk County. Help was received from around the state and nation; the governor of Texas sent the Texas Rangers and Highway Partrol, surrounding communities sent law enforcement and medical workers, railroad companies and the Salvation Army sent workers, and the Texas Funeral Commission sent 30 embalmers to aid in preparing the dead. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Adolph Hitler both sent messages of condolence, and President Roosevelt offered the aid of any federal agency needed. Journalist Walter Cronkite, on his first major assignment, was among the numerous members of the press sent to cover the       incident. There were approximately 540 students, teachers, and visitors in the building that day. Two hundred and ninety-eight died in the explosion, 150 were injured, and another 15 to 20 died later from injuries. As a result of the explosion, legislation was passed requiring an odor to be added to natural gas so that leaks may be detected.