Relatives’ Cries Nearly Start Panic

Crowd of People - AI Stock Photo

Camden Courier-Post – March 9, 1932

Crowds Mill About Scene of Explosion Where Workers Died

“They are in there- dead”

That shrill scream from the chilled lips of a relative of two men trapped in the steel tomb of the purifying box at the Public Service gas plant at Locust and Cherry Streets today almost started a panic among 1,000 persons, gathered at the scene a few minutes after a mysterious explosion snuffed out the lives of more than a dozen men.

The cry of horror and grief was taken up by others as they pressed against the woven wire fence about the company s property. Panic was averted by the policemen and firemen who had reached the scene a few minutes after the blast.

The excitement started when Frank Pizzatilla, of Walnut Street near Third, climbed up the narrow steel stairway that led to the top of the purifying box and looked upon a scene of horror within the square steel tomb.

Pizzatilla, who had rushed to the plant with several hundred others when word of the tragedy spread, said he recognized the seared bodies of his father and father-in-law in the seething mass below.

He started to walk down the narrow, steel stairway that formed the only means of reaching the lone entrance to the purifying box. Below the hundreds of relatives and friends of the doomed men watched him with anxiety.

“In There Dead”

“They are in there- dead,” he screamed.

He fell in a faint and but for a fireman, Pizzatilla would have toppled to the ground, fully 20 feet below. Other firemen and policemen rushed up the narrow stairway and carried Pizzatilla down.

As his inert body was being carried toward an ambulance, cries of bitter hatred were heard. They came from a relative of another victim. He shouted vile curses upon the officials of the company, upon the firemen and upon the policemen. He called them murderers. He yelled for a revolver, shouting that he would avenge the death of the trapped men.

About him gathered a number of persons, most of them of foreign extraction, or colored, for the majority of the victims were colored. The situation became tense.

Every policeman and fireman who could be spared from the gruesome work of trying to reach the entombed bodies rushed the crowd. Lieutenant George Ward and several policemen grabbed a heavy, long rope from one of the nearby fire wagons.

Quickly the rope was stretched across Locust Street at the intersection and a tug of war started, with the crowd surging against the rope and policemen and firemen pulling at both ends, sweeping them backward into Locust Street.

With the crowd under control, the police began to search for the man, whose cries for revenge had started the hundreds milling around in groups, but he had disappeared in the crowd.

Then Locust Street below Cherry was roped off with little difficulty and a line of policemen took their positions across Cherry Street between the two gas tanks that stand on the northeast and southeast corners. People who attempted to reach the plant were turned back.

“No use going any farther,” the policemen would tell each person who tried to get up closer. “All the men in the tank are dead and there is nothing anyone can do except remove the bodies when the tank is cooled down.

These words seemed to have a quieting effect upon the hundreds that had tried to rush the police lines. Gradually the people left for their homes. An hour after the blast there were less than 100 spectators at the scene.


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