Fatal DuPont chemical explosion turning point in Lou. TV coverage

Louisville remembers the worst workplace tragedy in 1965.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The DuPont chemical plant in Louisville's Rubbertown exploded in fire on August 25 1965.

A series of blasts starting that morning would kill 12 employees and injure 70.

Bill Ritter of Sellersburg, Indiana, now 91 years old, worked there 36 years and remembers that day like yesterday.

"Everything shook, lights went out. I remember I fell down to my knees," he said.

The DuPont tragedy was also the first live broadcast for WHAS-TV and for that matter, any TV station in Louisville.

To broadcast from near the scene, the station hauled its huge studio cameras out of the building and put them on the top of production trucks. We were on the air live when another blast ripped the blast.

The film from WHAS-TV News reporters Bud Harbsmeier and Bob Johnson shows workers standing in line at a phone booth to call their loved ones at home and tell them they had survived.

Ritter looked out of the window of his tool shop at DuPont and saw an unreal scene as the explosion ripped apart giant chemical tanks, "It blew the tops off of them. They looked like flying saucers in the air."

Our coverage showed injured workers being bandaged by the American Red Cross.

The destruction of the day was unbelievable. By the time it was over the DuPont plant had been levelled. It was a $50 million loss and a huge community tragedy with the death of the employees.

"There were periodic explosions for the rest of that day and during the night," Ritter recalled.

I talked to Bud Harbsmeier, now 80, for this story. He told me he'll never forget being one of the first reporters into the plant a few days after the tragedy. Some of the victims had not been removed. It was a ghastly sight.

The Courier Journal reported four days after the incident, that the company believed human error triggered the fire and explosions. But it didn't stop there, in June of 1969, six workers were hurt after another series of blasts at the DuPont plant.


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment