Sunday, April 22, 2007

April 22

A calamity shrouded by state secrecy occurred three years ago today in Ryongchon, North Korea, where a train explosion killed several hundred people while leveling nearly 2000 houses within a 500 meter radius. According to Red Cross observers, at least 76 children died in the blast when their school was obliterated. Although the precise cause of the disaster has never quite been ascertained, the best guess appears to be that a wagon loaded with ammonium nitrate fertilizer was accidentally detonated by an electrical charge when it was shunted to a car brimming with fuel oil.

The Ryongchon explosion took place twelve years after a horrific volley of explosions blew apart huge sections of the working class Alamo district in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. Here, 206 people died and more than 500 were injured when corroding PeMex gasoline pipes leaked fluid into the city’s sewer system. For days prior, residents of the city had complained of gas fumes in their homes; some even witnessed gasoline flowing from their sink faucets. City officials were investigating the problem when the city lit up like a Roman candle at 10:06 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 April 1992. Over the course of four hours, a series of blasts tore apart six miles of sewer lines, destroying hundreds of buildings and vehicles and rendering 15,000 people homeless. Nearly two dozen city blocks collapsed into massive, 60-foot ravines, where more than 230,000 tons of rubble crushed everything. The explosions registered around 7.0 on the Richter scale. Buses were tossed onto rooftops.

As in South Korea a dozen years later, the source of the ignition could never be clearly reconstructed. It is quite possible, however, that the spark from a dropped manhole precipitated the disaster.

(Last year's post)