As several people have pointed out, the recent explosion in Beirut bears many eerie similarities to the Texas City disaster of 1947. Also, the same kind of explosion happened on a rather smaller level seven years ago and about 20 miles from where I am sitting, in West, Texas. Maybe the world needs a serious rethinking of how we store ammonium nitrate.
The official death count for the Texas City explosions was 581, but there’s good reason to believe that many more died. And Stephen Harrigan, in Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas, adds this mournful postscript:
Of the 468 bodies deposited at the local funeral home and at a makeshift morgue in the garage of a gas station, 63 could not be identified. It was decided that they would be buried in the same location, with best guesses made about which body parts should go into which coffins. Preliminary arrangements were made for a parcel of land a few miles away in the town of Hitchcock to be used for the burial, but the citizens there wanted to know beforehand whether there were any black people among the dead. When they were told there were, they canceled the deal.