Little did I know when I was aged 7, that 2 headlines in a regional newspaper would have links to my life in ways I could never have imagined.
On November 7,1975 2 events were in the Dutch newspapers. One event was a disaster which happened in a chemical plant, the other event was the release of a Dutch business man who had been kidnapped by the IRA.
The chemical plant was DSM, a petrochemical plant in my birthplace Geleen,in the Netherlands. The business man was Dr Herrema who was the Managing Director at the Ferenka steel plant in Limerick,Ireland.
43 years ago I did not think that 22 years later I would move from Geleen to Limerick.
As the title of the blog is ‘the forgotten disaster’ I will focus on that fateful day 43 years ago where 14 people died.
I deliberately called it the forgotten history because there is really not much to be found on the DSM disaster on most historical sites.One site actually quotes the name incorrectly.
On November 7,1975 at 9.50 AM the naphtha cracker II-(Naphtha is a flammable liquid made from distilling petroleum, cracking, is a process in which large hydrocarbon molecules are broken down into smaller and more useful ones)- was restarted after a revision. Unfortunately the restart didn’t go as planned due to a a pipe breaking in the compression unit.a mixture of liquids compressed was released under high pressure and flowed along the hot furnaces, causing a Vapor Cloud Explosion.
The extreme power of the explosion destroyed many installations around the cracker. In addition, fierce fires arose in pipeline streets and storage tanks.
The explosion was felt in surrounding suburbs and nearby villages.It was not uncommon for windows to tremble in the region, because there would be regular bangs after the start up of any of the naphtha crackers, but people quickly realized that this was different.
As a 7 year old the experience was different of course. When you would hear a big bang or feel the explosion, there wasn’t a sense of fear but more a sense of excitement. Also the fact we were sent home early was a great bonus.
However soon after you actually could see the reality.Men you would usually see going to work at the plant in the mornings, at the same time you’d go to school. suddenly weren’t there anymore.
After a while you’d get new neighbors because families affected by the disaster moved out.
14 people died and 109 were injured that day.It would take 5 days for all fires to be extinguished.
Yet in the wider world the disaster has been forgotten even Dutch historical sites barely mention it and sometimes when they do they have the facts wrong.
Many people of my age and older still vividly remember the disaster and the aftermath of it. Ever since that day there was always the fear that something like this could happen again.
I remember in 1994 or 1995 there was an incident where an US Airforce AWACS plane flew over the DSM. and it got into some difficulties.
The pilot had called the air control at the nearest airport, which was Maastricht-Aachen Airport. They had to drop some kerosene in order to land safely at their base, which was nearby in Germany. The air controller gave the pilot the okay to do so, not realizing the plane was directly over the torch of the naphtha cracker 4 at the time.(a burning installation where the waste product of the naphtha is burned)
Even though the AWACS plane was high above the area , if the torch had been operational at the time the kerosene still could have gone into it potentially causing a major disaster.Aside from that the code the pilot had given was a military code which also could have meant dropping bombs.although the AWACS planes do not carry any weaponry.
This incident was highlighted on a investigative current affair program on Dutch TV a few months after it happened.The show had actually been about mistakes made at several air control centres across Europe, and I had just watched it by chance, I had switched over from another channel during the commercial break.
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