TEXAS CITY — Sometimes luck comes in the form of a higher-paying job. Other times, it is a trip home to see the wife or the order to clear out just in the nick of time.
But is it really luck or is it fate?
For three survivors of the Texas City Disaster, chance changes in their original plans may very well have saved their lives.
Inez Martinez’s workday on April 15, 1947 was rather long. The 21-year-old laborer and a pal worked until 11:45 p.m. in hold No, 4 of the French cargo ship Grandcamp.
They planned to return to work aboard the ship the next morning, but a better-paying job could be had at Union Carbide. At just about the time they checked in for work at Carbide an explosion rocked the town.
Martinez, 88, would later learn that the very ship he worked on the day before had exploded. Its cargo of ammonium nitrate was likely ignited by a crew member’s discarded cigarette.
He wasn’t surprised.
“There were signs all over that ship, ‘No Smoking, No Fumar,’” Martinez said. “But you saw people all the time smoking.
“They’d squat down behind (cargo) to hide and light up.”
Julio Luna Jr., 91, also worked aboard the Grandcamp. He was in Hold No. 2 when he spotted smoke.
He alerted a French crewmember, who at first discounted his alarm.
“We, at first, tried a fire extinguisher, but that didn’t work,” Luna said. “The fire kept getting bigger, and when it was too big, that Frenchman finally told us to get out.”
Once the Texas City Fire Department arrived, Luna didn’t stick around. He was walking away from the ship when the blast happened.
“It knocked me to the ground,” he said. “I got up and looked back and prayed to God everyone was OK.”
Everyone wasn’t all right. Every member of the volunteer fire department on the scene was killed.
Otis Davis, 89, had just finished his shift as an operator’s helper at Monsanto, the chemical plant closest to the ship, the night of April 15 when he decided that he’d take a road trip.
“I had a few days off and took the bus home to (Bossier City, La.) to see my wife,” Davis said.
Had Davis not taken a few days off work, he would have been in a building next to the dock where the Grandcamp was berthed.
He heard of the devastation while back home. Three weeks later, he was back at the plant.
“I worked at the (guard shack) while they rebuilt the plant,” Davis said. “Once they had the plant rebuilt, I went back to work.”
Contact Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: Ringing of the bell for the firefighters killed in the explosion, laying of the wreaths at the memorial fountain, survivor’s story from Raymond Dupuy.
WHEN: 9 a.m. today
WHERE: Memorial Park, Loop 197 and 29th Street in Texas City