This pay May marked the 41st anniversary of the worst truck accident, or any accident for that matter, in Houston’s history. The Houston Chronicle provides the details of that fateful day and the aftermath. On May 11, 1976, a semi truck with a load of 7,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia plunged off a highway ramp. Its contents, which was a highly concentrated form of ammonia, and highly deadly if not handled properly. In the end, seven people died and almost 200 were injured. The accident had repercussions beyond the injuries and deaths, however and triggered a rethinking of how chemical disasters should be handled in the future.
In the 40 plus years since the accident, Houston has nearly doubled in size, and the route that ammonia tanker took that day is still in use. The accident happened at around 11 a.m. when the tanker hit a support beam and went right off the edge of a ramp onto the Southwest Freeway. Officials have since stated that the driver was probably speeding at the time. The tanker just missed landing on a car. The damage from the impact caused the release of ammonia fumes. Those who were too close died from inhaling the deadly poison. The police blocked off traffic in a 3-mile radius, and residents who could smell the ammonia were instructed to evacuate their homes until the smell was gone.
Of the seven deaths, six were at the scene or in the hospital immediately afterward. The seventh, beauty queen Karen Bijak, died three years later from the health complications caused by the gas. Most of the injured lived on with lung damage inflicted by the poison.
The accident caused several changes in regulated how hazardous materials should be transported through the city. For one, while the route the tanker took is still there, large quantities of hazardous materials are no longer allowed in what is called the 610 Loop. At the time, much like many fire departments throughout the country, the Houston Fire Department didn’t have a specifically trained hazmat team to deal with these types of incidents. As a result, many of those who first arrived on the scene were affected by the gas. Now, even for a small spill with even remotely dangerous chemicals, the hazmat team is dispatched to ensure public and responder safety. These measures have drastically improved the safety and security of the city and its citizens.
Trucks are large, unwieldy vehicles that can cause a lot of damage. Plus, as evidenced by the 1976 accident, the loads they carry can wreak havoc as well. It could be from fumes, or hazardous materials, or even large objects that can get loose and fall on the road and unsuspecting vehicles. If you’ve been injured as a result of a truck accident, and you are having difficulty getting compensation, don’t try to battle for your rights alone. Contact an attorney to help you navigate the legal system and get what compensation you deserve.