On 6 December 1917, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo in Halifax Harbour in Nova Scotia, Canada. The French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc was stuffed to the brim with TNT, picric acid, benezole, and guncotton.
The intensity of the blast
It was the biggest and most catastrophic explosion ever until the creation of the atomic bomb. It released the energy of approximately 2.9 kilotons of TNT (12 TJ). Nearly all of the constructions inside a half-mile radius, including Richmond’s neighborhood, were obliterated, while a brutal shockwave tore through the rest of the city. A cloud of smoke rose to at least 3,600 meters. A pressure wave snapped trees, bent iron railings, demolished structures, and grounded vessels. The inferno tore through Halifax, burning so bright that a few were blinded only from looking at the light of this explosion. Others were trapped inside their houses by the roaring fires. They had no way to escape from the smoke, which gradually choked them along with the flames that left nothing but ashes in their aftermath.
Over 1,600 People were killed instantly by the explosion. The blast, debris, fires killed approximately 2,000 people or collapsed buildings, along with an estimated 9,000 others were injured. Hundreds of people observing the flame from their houses were blinded when the blast wave smashed the windows in front of them. The resulting shock wave shattered windows 50 kilometers away, and the explosion’s noise could be heard hundreds of miles away.
The aftermath of the explosion
The rescue operation began shortly after the explosion, and hospitals immediately became full. Rescue trains started arriving the day of the blast from around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. At the same time, blizzards awakened additional trains out of central Canada and the northeastern United States. Construction of temporary shelters to house the many people left homeless began shortly after the catastrophe. Many men and women in Halifax initially thought the explosion to be the result of a German attack. The initial judicial inquiry found Mont-Blanc responsible for the tragedy; however, a later appeal decided that both vessels were to blame.
Here are some rare historical photographs that depict the intensity and the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion.