Largest artificial non-nuclear explosions

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There have been a number of extremely large explosions, many accidental, caused by modern high explosives, BLEVEs (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosions), older explosives such as gunpowder, volatile petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline (petrol), and other chemical reactions. This list contains the largest known examples, sorted by date. An unambiguous ranking in order of severity is not possible; a 1994 study by historian Jay White of 130 large explosions suggested that they need to be ranked by an overall effect of power, quantity, radius, loss of life and property destruction, but concluded that such rankings are difficult to assess.[1]

The weight of an explosive does not directly correlate with the energy or destructive impact of an explosion, as these can depend upon many other factors such as containment, proximity, purity, preheating, and external oxygenation (in the case of thermobaric weapons, gas leaks and BLEVEs).

Before 1900[edit]

Fall of Antwerp 
On 4 April 1585, during the Spanish siege of Antwerp, a fortified bridge named "Puente Farnesio"[2] had been built by the Spanish on Scheldt river, in order to isolate the city of any reinforcement. With the purpose of breaking the bridge, the Dutch designed four large fire ships, filled with a huge amount of gunpowder and rocks. Three of the fire ships failed the target, but one of 800 tons clashed with the bridge. It did not explode immediately, which gave time to some curious Spaniards to board her. Then, a devastating blast killed 800 Spaniards on the bridge, throwing bodies, rocks and pieces of metal several kilometers away. A little tsunami took place in the Scheldt river, the Earth shook for miles around and a large, dark cloud covered the area. The blast was felt as far as 35 km away, in the city of Ghent, where windows vibrated.
Great Torrington, Devon
On 16 February 1646, 80 barrels (57.2 tons) of gunpowder were accidentally ignited by a stray spark during the Battle of Torrington in the English Civil War, destroying the church in which the magazine was located and killing several Royalist guards and a large number of Parliamentarian prisoners who were being held there. The explosion effectively ended the battle, bringing victory to the Parliamentarians. It narrowly missed killing the Parliamentarian commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax. Great damage was caused in the town.
Delft Explosion
About 40 tonnes of gunpowder exploded on 12 October 1654, destroying much of the city of Delft in the Netherlands. Over a hundred people were killed and thousands were injured.
Destruction of the Parthenon 
On 26 September 1687, the famous and until-then-intact Greek monument was destroyed when an Ottoman ammunition bunker inside was struck by a Venetian mortar. 300 Turkish soldiers were killed in the explosion.
Bastion of San Nazaro, Brescia 
In 1769, the Bastion of San Nazaro in Brescia, Italy was struck by lightning. The resulting fire ignited 90 tonnes of gunpowder being stored, and the subsequent explosion leveled one-sixth of the city and killed 3,000 people.
Siege of Almeida (1810)
On 26 August 1810, in Almeida, Portugal, during the Peninsular War phase of the Napoleonic Wars, French forces commanded by Marshall André Masséna laid siege to the garrison, commanded by British Brigadier General William Cox. A shell made a chance hit on the old castle, which was being used as the main powder magazine. It initially ignited some 4,000 prepared charges, which in turn ignited 68 000 kg of black powder and 1,000,000 musket cartridges. The ensuing explosion killed 600 defenders and wounded 300. The castle was razed to the ground and sections of the defenses were damaged. Unable to reply to the French cannonade without gunpowder, Cox was forced to capitulate the following day with the survivors of the blast and 100 cannon. The French lost 58 killed and 320 wounded during the operation.
Battle of Negro Fort
On 27 July 1816, the British Royal Marines establishment known as the Negro Fort was occupied by about 330 members of a militia consisting of African American freedman, Choctaw and Seminole native Americans, when General Andrew Jackson's navy attacked in a campaign that accelerated the First Seminole War. After only five to nine rounds of hot shot, a cannonball entered the fort's powder magazine. The ensuing explosion was massive and destroyed the entire post. Almost all of the occupants were killed or wounded. General Edmund P. Gaines later said that the "explosion was awful and the scene horrible beyond description." There apparently were no American casualties.[3]
Siege of Multan
On 30 December 1848, in Multan during the Second Anglo-Sikh War, "A shell from a mortar struck a mosque in the city which had been turned into a magazine and stored with 180 000 kg of gunpowder [200 short tons (180 t)]. It blew up with a tremendous explosion which shook the earth for many kilometers round, and darkened the air with smoke and fragments."[4]
Palace of the Grand Master Explosion, in Rhodes
On 4 April 1856, the Ottomans had stored a large amount of gunpowder in the palace and the adjacent church, which were also full of people. In that time, it was considered that the ringing of bells could prevent the formation of storms. Unfortunately, a lightning bolt hit the gunpowder, triggering a huge blast that killed 4,000 people.
Mobile magazine explosion
On 25 May 1865, in Mobile, Alabama, in the Southern United States, an ordnance depot (magazine) exploded, killing 300 people. This event occurred just after the end of the American Civil War, during the occupation of the city by victorious Federal troops.
Flood Rock explosion
On 10 October 1885 in New York City, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detonated 300,000 pounds of explosives on Flood Rock, annihilating the island, in order to clear the Hell Gate for the benefit of East River shipping traffic.[5] The explosion sent a geyser of water 250 feet in the air;[6] the blast was felt as far away as Princeton, New Jersey.[5] The explosion has incorrectly been described as "the largest planned explosion before testing began for the atomic bomb"[6] — the detonation at the Battle of Messines was larger. Rubble from the detonation was used in 1890 to fill the gap between Great Mill Rock and Little Mill Rock, merging the two islands into a single island, Mill Rock.[5]
Nanaimo mine explosion
An explosion on 3 May 1887 in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, killed 150 miners.
Braamfontein explosion
On 19 February 1896, an explosives train at Braamfontein station in Johannesburg, loaded with between 56 and 60 tons of blasting gelatine destined for the burgeoning gold mines of the Witwatersrand and having been standing for three and a half days in searing heat, was struck by a shunting train. The load exploded, leaving a crater in the Braamfontein rail yard 60 meters long, 50 meters wide and 8 meters deep. The explosion was heard up to 200 kilometers away. At least 62 people were killed, and more than 200 were injured. Surrounding suburbs were destroyed, and roughly 3,000 people lost their homes. Almost every window in Johannesburg was shattered.[7]

1901–2000[edit]

World War I era[edit]

DuPont Powder Mill explosion, Fontanet, Indiana 
On October 15, 1907, approximately 40,000 kegs of powder exploded in the city of Fontanet, Indiana, killing between 50 and 80 people, and destroying the town. The sound of the explosion was heard over 320 km away, with damage occurring to buildings 40 km away.[8]
Alum Chine 
The Alum Chine was a Welsh freighter (out of Cardiff) carrying 343 tons of dynamite for use during construction of the Panama Canal. She was anchored off Hawkins Point, near the entrance to Baltimore Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. She exploded on 7 March 1913, killing over 30, injuring about 60, and destroying a tugboat and two barges. Most accounts describe two distinct explosions.
HMS Bulwark at Sheerness 
On 26 November 1914, the British pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Bulwark suffered a violent explosion amidships and sank near Sheerness town, Kent. An estimated 736 men died. Two of the 14 survivors later died in hospital. Other crew were ashore at the time of the explosion. An inquiry investigated various theories including the overheating of older cordite cartridges or their mishandling. Survivors reported some charges were out of the magazine and were being stored in a passageway that morning, under Royal Marine guard. The explosion occurred around breakfast when smoking was normally allowed.
HMS Princess Irene at Sheerness 
On 27 May 1915 the converted minelayer HMS Princess Irene suffered a blast described as larger than that of HMS Bulwarks (see above) but with fewer casualties. Wreckage was thrown up to 20 miles while a collier ship half a mile away had its crane blown off and a crew member was killed by a fragment weighing 70 pounds. A child ashore was killed by another fragment. A case of butter was found six miles away. A total of 352 people were killed but one crew member survived, with severe burns. The ship had been loaded with 300 sea mines containing with more than 150 tons of high explosive. An inquiry blamed faulty priming, possibly by untrained personnel.
HMS Natal at Cromarty Firth 
On 30 December 1915 the British armoured cruiser HMS Natal was anchored in Cromarty Firth, Scotland. The captain was hosting a film party aboard and there were wives, nurses and children aboard. A series of explosions occurred astern which resulted in the ship capsizing and sinking in shallow water within five minutes. Estimates of the death toll vary from 390 to 421. Faulty or over-age cordite was blamed for the loss. A similar suggestion was made for HMS Bulwark. Royal Navy cordite safety was improved with greater attention to temperature and age but cordite was also implicated in the explosive losses of ships at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
Faversham explosion 
On 2 April 1916, a huge explosion ripped through the gunpowder mill at Uplees, near Faversham, Kent, when 200 tons of TNT ignited. 105 people died in the explosion. The munitions factory was next to the Thames estuary, which explains why the explosion was heard across the estuary as far away as Norwich, Great Yarmouth, and Southend-on-Sea, where domestic windows were blown out and two large plate-glass shop windows shattered.
Queen Mary explodes during the Battle of Jutland
Battle of Jutland 
On 31 May 1916, three British battlecruisers were destroyed by magazine explosions (actually cordite deflagrations) initiated by armour-piercing shells fired by the German High Seas Fleet. At 16:02 HMS Indefatigable was cut in two by detonation of the forward magazine and sank immediately with all but two of her crew of 1,019. German eyewitness reports and the testimony of modern divers suggest all her magazines exploded. The wreck is now just a debris field. At 16:25 HMS Queen Mary was cut in two by detonation of the forward magazine and sank with all but 21 of her crew of 1,283. As the rear section capsized it also exploded. At 18:30 HMS Invincible was cut in two by detonation of the midships magazine and sank in 90 seconds with all but six of her crew. 1026 men died including Rear Admiral Hood. An armoured cruiser, HMS Defence, was a fourth ship to suffer an explosive deflagration at Jutland with at least 893 men killed. The rear magazine was seen to detonate followed by more explosions as the cordite flash travelled along an ammunition passage beneath her broadside guns. Eye witness reports suggest that HMS Black Prince may also have suffered an explosion as she was lost during the night action with all hands - 857 men. British reports say she was seen to blow up. German reports speak of the ship being overwhelmed at close range and sinking. The lack of survivors suggests a catastrophic explosion.
Lochnagar Mine 
On the morning of 1 July 1916, a charge of 60,000 lb (27 t) of ammonal explosive was blown to start the Battle of the Somme. The explosions constituted what was then the loudest human-made sound in history, and could be heard in London. The mine created a crater 300 ft (90 m) across and 90 ft (30 m) deep, with a lip 15 ft (5 m) high. The crater is known as Lochnagar Crater after the trench from where the main tunnel was started.
Black Tom explosion 
On 30 July 1916, sabotage by German agents caused 1,000 short tons (910 t) of explosives bound for Europe, along with another 50 short tons (45 t) on the Johnson Barge No. 17, to explode in Jersey City, New Jersey, a major dock serving New York. There were few deaths, but about 100 injuries. Damage included buildings on Ellis Island, parts of the Statue of Liberty, and much of Jersey City.
Silvertown explosion 
On 19 January 1917, parts of Silvertown in East London were devastated by a massive TNT explosion at the Brunner-Mond munitions factory. 73 people died and hundreds were injured. The blast was felt across London and Essex and was heard over 100 mi (160 km) away, with the resulting fires visible for 30 mi (48 km).
Quickborn Explosion 
On 10 February 1917 a chain reaction in an ammunition plant "Explosivstoffwerk Thorn" in Quickborn-Heide (northern Germany) killed at least 115 people (some sources say over 200), mostly young female workers.
Plzeň explosion 
Škoda Works in Plzeň was the biggest ammunition plant in Austria-Hungary. A series of explosions on 25 May 1917 killed 202 workers and wounded 689. This event inspired Karel Čapek to write a novel Krakatit (1922).
Battle of Messines 
On 7 June 1917, nineteen (of a planned twenty-one) huge mines, containing a total of over 455 tons of ammonal explosives, were set off beneath German lines on the Messines-Wytschaete ridge. The explosion, which killed about 10,000 Germans, was heard as far away as London and Dublin. While determining the power of explosions is difficult, this was probably the largest planned explosion in history until the 1945 Trinity atomic weapon test, and the largest non-nuclear planned explosion until the 1947 British Heligoland detonation (below). The Messines mines detonation killed more people than any other non-nuclear man-made explosion in history.
A view of the Halifax Explosion pyrocumulus cloud, most likely from Bedford Basin looking toward the Narrows 15-20 seconds after the explosion
Halifax Explosion 
On 6 December 1917 the SS Imo and the SS Mont-Blanc collided in the harbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Mont-Blanc carried 2,653 tonnes of various explosives, mostly picric acid. After the collision the ship caught fire, drifted into town, and exploded. More than 2,000 people were killed and much of Halifax was destroyed. An evaluation of the explosion's force puts it at 2.9 kilotons TNT equivalent.[9]
Split Rock explosion 
On 2 July 1918 a munitions factory near Syracuse, New York, exploded after a mixing motor in the main TNT building overheated. The fire rapidly spread through the wooden structure of the main factory. Approximately 1-3 tons of TNT were involved in the blast, which leveled the structure and killed 50 workers (conflicting reports mention 52 deaths).
HMS Vanguard at Scapa Flow 
On 9 July 1917 the British dreadnought battleship HMS Vanguard suffered a violent explosion amidships and sank in Scapa Flow anchorage. An onboard fire is thought to have 'cooked off' cordite ammunition in an adjacent compartment. An estimated 804 men died with only two survivors.
T. A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant explosion, or Morgan Depot Explosion 
On 4 October 1918 an ammunition plant — operated by the T. A. Gillespie Company and located in the Morgan area of Sayreville in Middlesex County, New Jersey — exploded and triggered a fire. The subsequent series of explosions continued for three days. The facility, said to be one of the largest in the world at the time, was destroyed, along with more than 300 buildings forcing reconstruction of South Amboy and Sayreville. Though an exact number cannot be determined, it is believed that over 100 people died in this accident.[10]

Interwar period[edit]

1939 Japanese Imperial Army ammunition dump exploded in Hirakata, Osaka, Japan
Oppau explosion 
On 21 September 1921 a silo of BASF filled with 4,500 tonnes of fertilizer exploded, killing around 560, largely destroying Oppau, Germany, and causing damage more than 30 km away.
Nixon New Jersey Explosion 
The 1924 Nixon Nitration Works disaster was an explosion and fire that claimed many lives and destroyed several square miles of New Jersey factories. Saturday morning, March 1, 1924, when an explosion destroyed a building in Nixon, New Jersey used for processing ammonium nitrate. The 11:15 a.m. explosion touched off fires in surrounding buildings in the Nixon Nitration Works that contained other highly flammable materials. The disaster killed twenty persons, destroyed forty buildings, and demolished the “tiny industrial town of Nixon, New Jersey.”
New London School explosion
On 18 March 1937, a natural gas leak caused an explosion destroying the New London School of the city of New London, Texas. Over 300 students and teachers died.
Hirakata ammunition dump explosion
On March 1, 1939, Warehouse No. 15 of the Japanese Imperial Army's Kinya ammunition dump in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, Japan, suffered a catastrophic explosion, the sound of which could be heard throughout the Keihan area. Additional explosions followed over the next few days as the depot burned, for a total of 29 explosions by March 3. Japanese officials reported that 94 people died, 604 were injured, and 821 houses were damaged, with 4,425 households in all suffering the effects of the explosions.[11]

World War II era[edit]

Casablanca
On 13 September 1939 the French cruiser Pluton exploded and sank while offloading naval mines in the port of Casablanca, in French Morocco. The explosion killed 186 men, destroyed three nearby armed trawlers, and damaged nine more.
HMS Hood
On 24 May 1941 the battle cruiser sank in three minutes after the stern magazine detonated during the Battle of the Denmark Strait. The wreck has been located in three pieces, suggesting additional detonation of a forward magazine. There were only three survivors from the crew of 1418.
HMS Barham's main magazines explode, 25 November 1941
The magazine of Roma's number two 15-inch (381-mm) turret explodes on 9 September 1943.
HMS Barham
On 25 November 1941, the battleship rolled over after being torpedoed by U-331 and disintegrated from multiple magazine detonations attributed to inappropriately stored anti-aircraft ammunition. Film of the explosion was kept secret in deference to the 861 casualties, but has been widely viewed since the war.
USS Arizona
On 7 December 1941 during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the battleship was lifted from the water when a bomb detonated in the forward magazine, killing 1,177 crewmen.
SS Surrey
On the night of 10 June 1942, U-68 torpedoed the 8600-ton British freighter Surrey in the Caribbean Sea. Five thousand tons of dynamite in the cargo detonated after the ship sank. The shock wave lifted U-68 out of the water like a torpedo hit, and both diesel engines and the gyrocompass were disabled.[12]
Convoy SC 107
On the night of 3 November 1942, torpedoes detonated the ammunition cargo of the 6690-ton British freighter Hatimura. Both the freighter and attacking submarine U-132 were destroyed by the explosion.[13]
British escort carrier HMS Avenger
On 15 November 1942 the escort carrier sank with all but 12 of its 550-man crew when a torpedo fired by U-155 detonated the bomb magazine.
Japanese battleship Mutsu
While anchored near Hashirajima on 8 June 1943, the battleship was cut in two by an unexplained detonation of the magazine for #3 turret. The bow sank quickly, but the inverted stern remained afloat for 14 hours. There were 353 survivors of the 1474 aboard during the detonation.
Italian battleship Roma
On 9 September 1943 the battleship was cut in two when the magazine for the #2 turret was detonated by a German Fritz X MCLOS precision-guided munition after Italy had signed an armistice with the Allies. There were 596 survivors from a crew of 1849.
USS Liscombe Bay
On 24 November 1943 the escort carrier sank in 23 minutes with 644 of its crew when a torpedo fired by Japanese submarine I-175 detonated the bomb magazine.
Bombay Docks Explosion
On 14 April 1944 the SS Fort Stikine, carrying around 1,400 long tons (1,400 t) of explosives (among other goods), caught fire and exploded, killing around 800 people.
Bergen Harbour Explosion
On 20 April 1944 the Dutch steam trawler Voorbode, loaded with 124,000 kg of explosives, caught fire and exploded at the quay in the center of Bergen. The air pressure from the explosion and the tsunami that followed flattened whole neighborhoods near the harbor. Fires broke out in the aftermath, leaving 5,000 people homeless. 160 people were killed and 5,000 wounded.
West Loch Disaster
On 21 May 1944 an ammunition handling accident in Pearl Harbor destroyed six LSTs and 3 LCTs. Four more LSTs, ten tugs, and a net tender were damaged. Eleven buildings were destroyed ashore and nine more damaged. Nearly 400 military personnel were killed.
The explosion of the USS Mount Hood. The smoke trails are left by fragments ejected by the explosion.
The destruction of the Yamato.
Port Chicago disaster
On 17 July 1944 in Port Chicago, California, the SS E. A. Bryan exploded while loading ammunition bound for the Pacific, with an estimated 4,606 short tons (4,178 t) of high explosive, incendiary bombs, depth charges, and other ammunition. Another 429 short tons (389 t) waiting on nearby rail cars also exploded. The total explosive content is described as between 1,600[14] and 2,136[15] tons of TNT. 320 were killed instantly, another 390 wounded. Most of the killed and wounded were African American enlisted men. Following the explosion, 258 fellow sailors refused to load ordnance; 50 of these, called the "Port Chicago 50", were convicted of mutiny even though they were willing to carry out any order that did not involve loading ordnance under unsafe conditions.[16]
Cleveland East Ohio Gas Explosion
On 20 October 1944, liquified natural gas storage tanks in Cleveland, Ohio, exploded. The explosion destroyed 1 square mile (3 km2), killed 130, and left 600 homeless.
USS Mount Hood
On 10 November 1944 the ammunition ship exploded in Seeadler Harbor at Manus Island with an estimated 3,800 tons of ordnance material on board. Mushrooming smoke rose to 7,000 feet (2000 m), obscuring the ship and the surrounding area for a radius of approximately 500 yards (500 m). Mount Hood's former position was revealed by a trench in the ocean floor 1000 feet (300 m) long, 200 feet (60 m) wide, and 30 to 40 feet (10 to 12 m) deep. The largest remaining piece of the hull was found in the trench and measured no bigger than 16 by 10 feet (5 by 3 m). All 296 men aboard the ship were killed. The USS Mindanao was 350 yards (320 m) away and suffered extensive damage, with 23 crew killed, and 174 injured. Several other nearby ships were also damaged or destroyed. Altogether 372 were killed and 371 injured in the blast.
RAF Fauld Explosion
On 27 November 1944 the RAF Ammunition Depot at Fauld, Staffordshire, became the site of the largest explosion in the UK, when 3,700 tonnes of bombs stored in underground bunkers covering 17,000 square meters exploded en masse. The explosion was caused by bombs being taken out of store, primed for use, and replaced with the detonators still installed when unused. The crater was 30 meters deep and covered 5 hectares. The death toll was approximately 78, including RAF, six Italian POWs, civilian employees, and local people. In the similar Port Chicago disaster (above), about half the weight of bombs was high explosive. If the same is true of the Fauld Explosion, it would have been equivalent to about 2 kilotons of TNT.
Japanese aircraft carrier Unryu
On 19 December 1944 the carrier disintegrated when torpedoes fired by USS Redfish detonated the forward magazine.
SS John Burke
Sunk by a kamikaze attack on December 28, 1944 off the coast of the Philippines. The impact of the airplane ignited the John Burke's cargo of ammunition and explosives, resulting in a tremendous blast that destroyed the ship and killed all 68 crewmen.
Japanese battleship Yamato
On 7 April 1945, after six hours of battle, the Yamato's magazine exploded as she sank, resulting in a mushroom cloud rising six kilometers above the wreck (where it could be seen from Kyushu, 160 kilometers away). 2,055 crewmen were killed.

Post World War II era[edit]

Texas City Disaster 
On 16 April 1947, the SS Grandcamp, loaded with 8,500 short tons (7,700 t) of ammonium nitrate, exploded in port at Texas City, Texas. 581 died, over 5,000 injured. Using standard chemical data for decomposition of ammonium nitrate makes this equivalent to 2.7 kilotons of TNT exploding.[Note 1] However the US Army rates the relative effectiveness factor of ammonium nitrate, compared to TNT, as 0.42.[17] This conversion factor makes the blast equivalent to (0.42)7,770 tons, or 3.2 kilotons of TNT, with the discrepancy between the total energy and relative effectiveness value of the explosive power being due to direct comparisons between high explosives not being as simplistic as comparing total internal energy of each high explosive.
This is generally considered the worst industrial accident in United States history.
Heligoland 
On 18 April 1947 British engineers attempted to destroy the entire North Sea island of Heligoland in what became known as the "British Bang".[18][19] Roughly 4000 tons[20][21] of surplus World War II ammunition were placed in various locations around the island and set off. The island survived, although the extensive fortifications were destroyed. According to Willmore,[21] the energy released was 1.3×1020 erg (1.3×1013 J), or about 3.2 kilotons of TNT equivalent. The blast is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records under largest single explosive detonation, although Minor Scale would appear to be larger.
Ocean Liberty in Brest, France 
On 28 July 1947, the Norwegian cargo ship Ocean Liberty exploded in the French port of Brest. The cargo consisted of approximately 3300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in addition to paraffin and petrol. The explosion killed 33 people, around 1000 were injured, 4000 lighter injuries, 4000-5000 buildings were damaged.
Cadiz 
On 18 August 1947, a naval ammunition warehouse containing mostly mines and torpedoes exploded in the city of Cadiz, in southern Spain, for unknown reasons. The explosion of approximately 200 tons of TNT leveled a large portion of the city. Officially, the explosion killed 150 people; however, the real death toll is suspected to be considerably higher.
Kalvarienberg Prüm 
On 15 July 1949 in the German town of Prüm, a bunker used previously by the German army to store ammunition caught fire. After a mostly successful evacuation of the town, the 500 tonnes of ammunition in the bunker exploded and destroyed large parts of the town. 12 people died and 15 were severely injured.
Cali Explosion, Colombia 
On 7 August 1956 seven trucks from the Colombian army, carrying more than 40 tons of dynamite, exploded. The explosion killed more than 1000 people, and left a crater 25 meters (70 ft) deep and 60 meters (200 ft) in diameter.[22][23]
Ripple Rock, British Columbia, Canada 
On 5 April 1958 an underwater mountain was leveled by the explosion of 1,375 tonnes of Nitramex2H, an ammonium nitrate–based explosive.
Operation Blowdown 
On 18 July 1963, a joint UK-Australian test in the Iron Range area of Queensland, Australia, tested the feasibility of nuclear weapons for clearing forests and using mangled forests to slow troop movement in South East Asia, primarily Indonesia and Malaysia in the escalation against Sukarno and the Konfrontasi Malayan Emergency and with a view to the later Myanmar conflict[further explanation needed] and Vietnam War simmering at the time.[24][full citation needed][25][not specific enough to verify]
CHASE 2, off New Jersey 
On 17 September 1964, the offshore disposal of the ship Village, containing 7,348-short-ton (6,666 t) of obsolete munitions, caused unexpected detonations 5 minutes after sinking. The detonations were detected on seismic instruments around the world; the incident encouraged intentional detonation of subsequent disposal operations to determine detectability of underwater nuclear testing.[26]
500 short tons (450 t) tons of high explosives awaiting detonation for Operation Sailor Hat
Detonation of explosive during Operation Sailor Hat, with shock front visible moving across the water and shock condensation cloud visible overhead
Operation Sailor Hat, off Kaho'olawe Island, Hawaii 
A series of tests was performed in 1965, using conventional explosives to simulate the shock effects of nuclear blasts on naval vessels. Each test saw the detonation of a 500-short-ton (450 t) mass of high explosives.
CHASE 3 and 4, off New Jersey 
On 14 July 1965, Coastal Mariner was loaded with 4,040-short-ton (3,670 t) of obsolete munitions containing 512-short-ton (464 t) of high explosives. The cargo was detonated at a depth of 1,000 feet (300 m) and created a 600-foot (200 m) water spout, but was not deep enough to be recorded on seismic instruments. On 16 September 1965, Santiago Iglesias was similarly detonated with 8,715-short-ton (7,906 t) of obsolete munitions.[26]
Medeo Dam, near Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan 
On 21 October 1966 a mud flow protection dam was created by a series of four preliminary explosions of 1,800 tonnes total and a final explosion of 3,600 tonnes of ammonium nitrate–based explosive. On 14 April 1967 the dam was reinforced by an explosion of 3,900 tonnes of ammonium nitrate–based explosive.
CHASE 5, off Puget Sound 
On 23 May 1966, Izaac Van Zandt was loaded with 8,000-short-ton (7,300 t) of obsolete munitions containing 400-short-ton (360 t) of high explosives. The cargo was detonated at a depth of 4000 feet (1.2 km).[26]
CHASE 6, off New Jersey 
On 28 July 1966, Horace Greeley was loaded with obsolete munitions and detonated at a depth of 4000 feet (1.2 km).[26]
N1 launch explosion 
On 3 July 1969, an N1 rocket in the Soviet Union exploded on the launch pad, after a loose bolt was ingested into a fuel pump. The entire rocket contained about 680,000 kg (680 t) of kerosene and 1,780,000 kg (1,780 t) of liquid oxygen.[27] Using a standard energy release of 43 MJ/kg of kerosene gives about 29 TJ for the energy of the explosion (about 6.93 kt TNT equivalent).
Comparing explosions of initially unmixed fuels is difficult (being part detonation and part deflagration), but in terms of energy released, this is the largest man-made non-nuclear explosion, not detonation.
Iri Station Explosion
On 11 November 1977, a freight train carrying 40 tons of dynamite from Incheon to Gwangju suddenly exploded at Iri station (present-day Iksan), Jeollabuk-do province, South Korea. The cause of the explosion was accidental ignition by an intoxicated guard. 59 people lost their lives, and 185 others seriously wounded; altogether, over 1,300 people were injured or killed.
Los Alfaques disaster 
On 11 July 1978, an over-loaded tanker truck carrying 23 tons of liquefied propylene crashed and ruptured in Spain, emitting a huge white cloud of ground-hugging fumes which spread into a nearby campground and discothèque before reaching an ignition source and exploding. 217 people were killed and 200 more severely burned.
Siberian pipeline sabotage 
In June 1982, the Siberian Oil Pipeline in the U.S.S.R. exploded because of (alleged) CIA sabotage: a Trojan Horse had been added to the control software before it was stolen from a Canadian firm for use on the pipeline. When triggered, it caused widespread equipment malfunction. Details were classified, but a former Air Force secretary describes it as being "the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space."[28]
Minor Scale and Misty Picture 
Many very large deliberate detonations have been carried out in order to simulate the effects of nuclear weapons on vehicles and military material in general.[29] The largest publicly known test was conducted by the United States Defense Nuclear Agency (now part of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency) on 27 June 1985 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. This test, called Minor Scale, used 4744 short tons of ANFO, with a yield of about 4 kt.[30] Misty Picture was another similar test a few years later, just slightly smaller (4,685 short tons or 4,250 t).
Murdock BLEVEs 
In 1983 near Murdock, Illinois, at least two tanker cars of a burning derailed train exploded into massive BLEVEs; one of them was hurled nearly three-quarters of a mile as a consequence.[31]
PEPCON disaster 
On 4 May 1988 about 8,500,000 lb (3,900 t) of ammonium perchlorate burned in a fire and set off massive explosions near Henderson, Nevada. In addition, a 16 inches (41 cm) natural gas pipeline ruptured under the stored ammonium perchlorate and added fuel to the later, larger explosions. There were seven detonations total, the largest being the last. Two people were killed and hundreds injured. The largest explosion was estimated to be equivalent to one kiloton of TNT.[32][33] The accident was caught on video by a broadcast engineer servicing a transmitter on a nearby mountaintop.[34]
Ufa train disaster 
On 4 June 1989, a gas explosion destroyed two trains in the Soviet Union.[35]
Intelsat 708 Long March 3B launch failure
On 14 February 1996, a Chinese rocket veered severely off course immediately after clearing the launch tower, then crashed into and incinerated a nearby city in an enormous explosion. Following the disaster, foreign media were sequestered in a bunker for five hours while, some alleged, the Chinese military attempted to "clean up" the damage. Officials later blamed the failure on an "unexpected gust of wind" although video clearly shows this is not the case. Xinhua News Agency initially reported 6 deaths and 57 injuries.[36][37]
Enschede fireworks disaster 
On 13 May 2000 about 177 tonnes of fireworks exploded in the Dutch town of Enschede, in which 23 people were killed and 947 were injured.[38] The first explosion had strength in the order of 800 kg TNT equivalence, while the strength of the final explosion was within the range of 4000–5000 kg TNT.[39]

2001–present[edit]

AZF chemical factory
On 21 September 2001 an explosion occurred at a fertilizer factory in Toulouse, France. The disaster caused 29 deaths, 2,500 seriously wounded, and 8,000 light casualties. The blast (estimated yield of 20-40 tons of TNT, comparable in scale to the military test Operation Blowdown) was heard 80 km away (50 miles) and registered 3.4 on the Richter scale. It damaged about 30,000 buildings over about two-thirds of the city, for an estimated total cost of about €2 billions.[40]
Ryongchon disaster 
A train exploded in North Korea on 22 April 2004. According to official figures, 54 people were killed and 1,249 were injured.[citation needed]
Seest fireworks disaster 
On 3 November 2004 about 284 tonnes of fireworks exploded in the Danish town of Kolding. One firefighter was killed, and a mass evacuation of 2,000 people saved many lives. The cost of the damage was estimated at 100 million.
2005 Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal fire 
On 11 December 2005 there was a series of major explosions at the 60,000,000 imp gal (270,000,000 L) capacity Buncefield oil depot near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England. The explosions were heard over 100 mi (160 km) away, as far as the Netherlands and France, and the resulting flames were visible for many miles around the depot. A smoke cloud covered Hemel Hempstead and other nearby towns in west Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. There were no fatalities, but there were around 43 injuries (2 serious).
Sea Launch failure 
On 30 January 2007, a Sea Launch Zenit-3SL rocket exploded on takeoff. The explosion consumed the roughly 400,000 kg (400 t) of kerosene and liquid oxygen on board. This rocket was launched from an uncrewed ship in the middle of the Pacific ocean, so there were no casualties; however, the launch platform was damaged and the NSS-8 satellite was destroyed.
2007 Maputo arms depot explosion 
On 22 March 2007, a series of explosions over 2.5 hours rocked the Mozambican capital of Maputo. The incident was blamed on high temperatures. Officials confirmed 93 fatalities and more than 300 injuries.[41]
T2 Laboratories 
On 19 December 2007, T2 Laboratories in Jacksonville Florida exploded with the power of 1 ton of TNT. It left 4 people dead and 14 injured. The explosion occurred in a 2500 gallon batch reactor during production of methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl. The reactor cooling system, which lacked backups, failed; this led to a thermal runaway.
Toronto propane explosion
On 10 August 2008, a fire in a propane storage facility near Toronto, Canada, caused at least one large BLEVE explosion whose shock wave shattered windows throughout the Downsview suburb.[42]
2009 Cataño oil refinery fire 
On the morning of 23 October 2009 there was a major explosion at the gasoline tanks at the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation oil refinery and oil depot in Bayamón, Puerto Rico.[43] The explosion was seen and heard from 50 miles (80 km) away and left a smoke plume with tops as high as 30,000 feet (9 km)/ It caused a 3.0 earthquake and blew glass around the city. The resulting fire was extinguished on 25 October.
Ulyanovsk arms depot explosion 
On 13 and 23 November 2009, 120 tons of Soviet-era artillery shells blew up in two separate sets of explosions at the 31st Arsenal of the Caspian Sea Flotilla's ammunition depot near Ulyanovsk, killing ten.[44][45]
Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion 
At around 5:45 am local time of 11 July 2011, a fire at a munitions dump at Evangelos Florakis Naval Base near Zygi, Cyprus, caused the explosion of 98 cargo containers of various types of munition. The equivalent of 2 kilotons of TNT equivalent energy was released.[citation needed] The naval base was destroyed, as was Cyprus's biggest power plant, the "Vassilikos" power plant 500 m away. It also caused 13 deaths and injuries to over 60. Injuries were reported up to 5 km and damaged houses were reported as far as 10 km from ground zero.[46][47] Seismometers at the Mediterranean region recorded the explosion as a M3.0 seismic event.[48]
Cosmo Oil Refinery Fire
The Cosmo Oil Company's refinery in Japan's Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, caught fire during the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. As it raged, several pressurized liquified propane gas storage tanks exploded into massive fireballs.[49][50][51]
Hunan LNG tanker explosion 
On 6 October 2012, a derailed tanker car filled with 20 tons of liquified natural gas ruptured, causing a white gas cloud to expand for 25 seconds across an adjacent highway before reaching an ignition source. The resulting explosion and shock-wave killed five and demolished two fire engines.[52][53]
Texas fertilizer plant explosion 
On 17 April 2013, a fire culminating in an explosion shortly before 8 p.m. CDT (00:50 UTC, April 18) destroyed the West Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, located 18 miles (29 km) north of Waco, Texas.[54][55][56] The blast killed 15 people, injured over 160, and destroyed over 150 buildings. The United States Geological Survey recorded the explosion as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake.[57][58]

Comparison with large conventional military ordnance[edit]

The most powerful non-nuclear weapons ever designed are the United States' MOAB (standing for Massive Ordnance Air Blast, also nicknamed Mother Of All Bombs, tested in 2003) and the Russian Father of All Bombs (tested in 2007). The MOAB contains 18,700 lb (8.5 t) of the H6 explosive, which is 1.35 times as powerful as TNT, giving the bomb an approximate yield of 11 t TNT. The FOAB is about 4 times more powerful than the MOAB. It would require about 250 MOAB blasts to equal the Halifax Explosion.

Conventional explosions for nuclear testing[edit]

A number of large conventional explosions have been conducted for nuclear testing purposes. Some of the larger ones are listed below.[59]

Event Explosive used Amount of explosive Where Date
Trinity calibration test TNT 100 tons[60][61] White Sands Proving Grounds 7 May 1945
Operation Blowdown TNT 50 short tons (45 t) Lockhart River, Queensland 18 July 1963
Snowball TNT 500 short tons (450 t) Alberta, Canada 1964
Operation Sailor Hat TNT 3 tests × 500 short tons (450 t) Kahoolawe, HI 1965
Distant Plain Propane 20 short tons (18 t) Alberta, Canada 1966-1967
Prairie Flat TNT 500 short tons (450 t) Alberta, Canada 1968
Dial Pack TNT 500 short tons (450 t) Alberta, Canada 23 July 1970
Mixed Company TNT 500 short tons (450 t) Colorado 20 November 1972
Dice Throw ANFO 620 short tons (560 t) White Sands Missile Range 6 October 1976
Misers Bluff ANFO 7 tests × 120 short tons (110 t) Planet Ranch, AZ 1978
Distant Runner ANFO 2 tests × 120 short tons (110 t) White Sands Missile Range 1981
Mill Race ANFO 620 short tons (560 t) White Sands Missile Range 16 September 1981
Direct Course ANFO 609 short tons (552 t) White Sands Missile Range 26 October 1983
Minor Scale ANFO 4,744 short tons (4,304 t) White Sands Missile Range 27 June 1985
Misty Picture ANFO 4,685 short tons (4,250 t) White Sands Missile Range 14 May 1987
Misers Gold ANFO 2,445 short tons (2,218 t) White Sands Missile Range 1 June 1989
Distant Image ANFO 2,440 short tons (2,210 t) White Sands Missile Range 20 June 1991
Minor Uncle ANFO 2,725 short tons (2,472 t) White Sands Missile Range 10 June 1993
Non Proliferation Experiment ANFO 1,410 short tons (1,280 t) Nevada Test Site 22 September 1993

Other smaller tests include Pre Mine Throw and Mine Throw in 1970-1974, Pre Dice Throw and Pre Dice Throw II in 1975, Pre-Direct Course in 1982, SHIST in 1994, and the series Dipole Might in the 1990s and 2000s. Divine Strake was a planned test of 700 tons at the Nevada Test Site in 2006, but was cancelled.

Rank order of largest conventional explosions/detonations by magnitude[edit]

These yields are approximated by the amount of the explosive material and its properties. They are rough estimates and are not authoritative.

Event Date Approximate yield
N1 launch explosion July 3, 1969 7 kt of TNT (29 TJ)
Minor Scale and Misty Picture June 27, 1985; May 14 1987 4.8 kt of TNT (20 TJ)
Heligoland April 18, 1947 3.2 kt of TNT (13 TJ)
Halifax Explosion December 6, 1917 2.9 kt of TNT (12 TJ)
Texas City Disaster April 16, 1947 2.7-3.2 kt of TNT (11–13 TJ)
Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion July 11, 2011 2-3.2 kt of TNT (9–13 TJ)
Port Chicago disaster July 17, 1944 1.6-2.2 kt of TNT (7–9 TJ)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ First NH4NO3 => N2O + 2H2O + 36 kJ/mole, followed by N2O => N2 + ½O2 + 82 kJ/mole of N2O. This gives a total of 118 kJ for 80 grams of NH4NO3, or 1475 kJ/kg. Since a kiloton is defined as 4184 kJ/kg, each kiloton of NH4NO3 gives 0.35 kilotons of explosive power. So 7,700 tonnes is about 2.7 kilotons explosive.

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External links[edit]