Scores Homeless at Warsaw

Building Owner's Condition Critical in Local Hospital


Approximately 80 persons receive Aid of Injure of shock;


31 Homes Ruined


Scores of persons were homeless at Warsaw this morning after a Yuletide blast which devastated an area in the eastern section of the city, causing damage estimated at from $1 to $2 million.

Like the ripples on a pond the explosion carried its damage to homes located six blocks away from the focal point.

The explosion occurred about 3:15 p.m. at the Jack Smith Distribution Co., US 42 and Center avenue.  The 60 by 100 brick and concrete building was demolished.  Not one brick was left standing on another.

The owner of the firm, which is a distributor for soft drinks and bottled beer in a five-county area, apparently was the only person in the building when the blast occurred.

Mr. Smith was in critical condition at St. Elizabeth Hospital Saturday.  Four other persons also remained at the hospital.  They are: Mrs. Myrtle Donnelly, 74; Mrs. Ola Courtney, 59; Carl Adams, 74; and Louella Adams, 73, all of Warsaw.  Extent of their injuries was not available at the hospital.

Harry Courtney, 38, son of Mrs. Courtney, and Floyd Donnelly, husband of Mrs. Donnelly, were treated at the hospital and released.

Also treated were Delores Ellis, 12; Harold Ellis, 36; Virginia Ellis, 33; Sandra Ellis, 5; Juanita Hill, 31; Gilbert Hill, 59; Pearl Hill, 52; Robert M. Hill, Sr., 49; and Bob Hill, 16, all of Warsaw; and Diana Hill, 14, of Covington, who had been visiting relatives in Warsaw.

Mrs. Markla Hutchinson, 44, was treated at a clinic in Carrollton and was dismissed.

Flying debris caused by the tremendous concussion was responsible for the scores of persons being injured.  Most of these were cuts by glass from broken windows and doors.

A Red Cross Disaster team from the Cincinnati Chapter set up an office at Gallatin County Courthouse, several blocks west of the plant.  James Grobe and Robert Van Fossen said Saturday that upwards of 30 families are homeless.  They said an inspection revealed that 31 homes were destroyed and 75 damaged in varying degrees.

Earlier state police had put the number of homes destroyed at 50.  The Red Cross team said their preliminary estimate of the total loss is from $1 million to $2 million.

Power lines on U.S. 42 were snapped and telephone lines across the highway also were downed. Repair crews were on the job in less than an hour after the blast.

Cause of the explosion continued a matter for speculation.  The plant was heated by a large furnace which used liquid petroleum gas.  A small furnace was used to heat the office. 

The blast was heard in such far flung places as Florence, Elsmere, Greater Cincinnati Airport at Boone County, Williamstown, and Carrollton.

The damage to the distribution plant was estimated at $400,000.  Stored in the building were eight trucks, including a tractor-trailer, five route trucks and two pickups.  All were destroyed, as was the auto owned by Mr. Smith.

Ambulance and fire fighting equipment from Warsaw, Gallatin County, Carrollton, Florence, Kenton Station, and Owen County rushed to the Ohio River city to help.

St. Elizabeth immediately put in its disaster program which calls in extra doctors and nurses.   Approximately 25 Kentucky state troopers were dispatched to assist the local authorities, headed by Police Chief Harry D. Hicks and Gallatin County Sheriff Ed Rea.  Most of the officers stayed at the scene last night as a safeguard against looting.

Gallatin County High and Elementary Schools located just to the east of the plant were damaged.  The old school building had very few windows left intact after the explosion.  Warsaw Baptist Church and Warsaw Christian Church, both in U.S. 42, were damaged.

One of the families made homeless was that of Mr. and Mrs. James Perkins.  He was at work at the time and his wife and children were away visiting.  Mr. Perkins, who works in Warsaw, said he flipped a coin with another employee to determine who would work Christmas Day.

"I lost the flip, but I sure did win in the long run,: Mr. Perkins said.  "All of us would have been home if I hadn't gone to work."  The house was shattered by the blast.

Otto Scudder and his wife, Mary, were not at home when the plant blew up.  The house remained standing, but had several holes large enough to drive an auto into.  They live immediately across from Center avenue from the plant.

One of the first witnesses to the explosion was Jack Peace and his wife Sally, who drove by the plant shortly before 3 p.m. on their way home from Napoleon where they were visiting with Mr. Peace's father.

Jack told his mother-in-law, Mrs. Laura Allphin, that Jack Smith had just left his auto and was entering the plant when they passed.  Before they could get to their own home on Smith Street, the town was rocked by the explosion.  Jack Peace and his wife turned their car around to find out what had happened.  They made it back to the rubble in time to see Mr. Smith being assisted out of the rubble.

Sally Beall, who lives on the main street of Warsaw, U.S. 42, on the extreme west end of the city, was sitting on her back porch when the blast occurred.  She hurried into the house to find an old-fashioned mantelpiece clock that hadn't worked for a year tolling.  When a chandelier in her front room, weakened by the explosion, fell, the resident rushed out the front door yelling for help.


by Burl Russell, writing in the Kentucky Post and Times-Star, December 26, 1959.