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Monday, May 2, 2016

The explosion is still being felt 100 years later

Monday, October 15, 2007

Explosions not only can be felt from miles away, but even 100 years later.

On Oct. 15, 1907, the DuPont Powder Mill exploded, essentially decimating the small mining town of Fontanet, Ind.

"This was the biggest man-caused tragedy in the history of Vigo County," Joe Koch, author of "Nevins Township: A Historical-Pictorial History of Her Towns, People and Happenings," said.

The first explosion occurred around 9:15 a.m. when a glazing unit overheated leading to a chain reaction of more explosions.

Within the next few minutes, two coining mills, a powder magazine and the cap mill also exploded, and an hour-and-a-half later the magazine section of the mill, which contained many thousand kegs of powder, exploded. The magazine section was located in a hollow several hundred yards from the mills, but the heat from the initial explosions set them off.

The energy from the explosions was massive, as the resulting concussions of the blasts were felt nearly 200 miles away.

The town itself was destroyed.

Newspaper articles about the disaster say no homes in the small town were left standing, but Koch has been told a different story.

"My dad told me that not every single house was destroyed," Koch said. "The mill sat down in the Otter Creek ravine and my great-grandparent's house was right next to the mill. Apparently, the energy of the blast rose up and flew right over their house. It shook the house, but did not destroy it."

While Koch's great-grandparent's house was spared, others were not so lucky.

Farm houses and school buildings two miles away in Coal Bluff were torn to pieces and the inhabitants badly injured. Also, the blasts were so great that a freight train on the Big Four Railroad, approximately four miles away, had every coach window broken and numerous passengers were injured from the flying glass. The train was also destroyed as wreckage on the train caught fire.

In all, approximately 50 people, mainly mill workers, were killed and at least 600 others were injured by the residual effect of the blasts.

Mill Supervisor Arthur R. Monahan was killed almost immediately by the initial explosion and his wife, two sisters-in-law and a niece were also killed at their cottage on the mill property.

Indiana Governor James Frank Hanly ordered the Terre Haute company of the Indiana National Guard to the area to help survivors in the area who were left without homes, and physicians and nurses from both Brazil and Terre Haute were also sent to assist.

Hanly himself came to the area later that evening, bringing several hundred tents and cots for the affected residents.

"It was a terrible tragedy for not just the residents of Fontanet, but also for those in the outlying areas who also felt the effects," Koch said.

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