TEXAS CITY - Donna Johnson remembered March 23, 2005, was a quiet day right up until the moment the doors of the dispatch office in the Texas City Police Department shook. 

“Me and my partner just looked at each other and said ‘what the hell was that,’” Johnson said. 

The next thing Johnson said she remembered hearing was a police sergeant screaming over the radio: “BP just exploded. BP just exploded.” 

At 1:20 p.m., the BP Texas City Refinery suffered one of the worst industrial disasters in recent U.S. history, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board report. In the police department’s dispatch, Johnson said the calls came in nonstop for the rest of the day. 

There were only two dispatchers in that day, she said. Johnson said her supervisor was training a new employee. After the explosion, the supervisor and the trainee jumped in to help answer calls. 

Johnson said she handled police calls while her co-worker organized the ambulances and medical helicopters that were coming to help.

“And, of course, the phones were crazy,” she said

People wanted to know how bad it was and how many injuries, she said. But no one knew the extent of the damage, she said. 

“It was an awful day,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said she can’t remember how long she spent at her desk picking up calls and trying to answer people’s questions. 

“It went on for a long time,” Johnson said. “None of us could even talk when our shift was over because of so much talking and answering the phones.” 

Contact reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez at 409-683-5314 or chris.gonzalez@galvnews.com

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