City in Flames – October 20, 1944

Stories of Cleveland Disasters and Tragedies

The worst industrial accident in Cleveland’s history occurred on October 20, 1944 when the East Ohio Gas Company exploded and wiped out an entire neighborhood. The East Ohio Gas Company was located near St. Clair and E. 55th Streets in the heart of the Slovenian community. It killed 130 people, 61 one of which were so badly burned that identification proved impossible. Among the 225 injured were 23 firefighters. It destroyed 79 houses, 2 factories and 217 automobiles. The total damage to property amounted to between 6 – 8 million dollars.

The East Ohio Gas Company #2 plant was one of the oldest industrial sites in Cleveland. Houses were built up around the facility at the turn of the century. The neighborhood became an enclave for Cleveland Slovenians. In 1941 the plant constructed three storage tanks for liquid natural gas. In 1942 they added a fourth tank but using a different design than the others.

On October 20, 1944 at 2:41 pm came the first explosion on tank #4. Within seconds most of the 29 acre plant was on fire. The liquid gas seeped into the sewer lines and entered the homes in the neighborhood through the plumbing. Most of the homes burned from the inside out. The fire consumed everything – structures, vehicles, the streets, the grass and unfortunately most living thing – human, animal and bird in the area. Ultimately, tank #3 would blow as well.

Emergency workers fought in vain to drench the flames. They sealed off the area. The fire was said to be brought under control by midnight but small fires smoldered for days. Gone was an entire neighborhood between E 55th and E 63rd and St. Clair and Lake Court. Many of the survivors lost everything they owned.

Today the #2 plant is Grdina Park and the neighborhood has been rebuilt. A memorial to the victims stands in the park.

To learn more about this Cleveland tragedy and others check out “Cleveland’s Greatest Disasters!: 16 Tragic True Tales of Death and Destruction” by John Strak Bellamy II.

Tours of Cleveland offers walking tours of downtown Cleveland. www.toursofcleveland.com

October 20, 1944 Cleveland
What was left of the area after the fire