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July 10, 1926: Lightning strike causes massive explosion, kills two dozen in New Jersey

All images courtesy of the Picatinny Arsenal explosion of Found Flicks Facebook page

All images courtesy of the Picatinny Arsenal explosion of Found Flicks Facebook page


Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, July 11, 2014, 2:56 PM - On July 10, 1926 an unstable airmass brought severe thunderstorms New Jersey -- sparking a lightning strike that shook a small northern town to its core.

By the afternoon the storms had hit New Jersey's Rockaway Township area, where the Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Storage Depot, part of the Picatinny Arsenal, was situated.

At the time the U.S. military had been storing millions of tonnes of ammunition left over from WWI there.


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Just after 5 p.m. a lightning bolt struck the depot, setting off a fire.

The fire could have been contained initially but the officer in charge was assured that safety measures were in place to protect the building from the storm damage.

Unfortunately that system failed and the fire spread quickly, setting off more than 600,000 tonnes of explosives.

Nearly 200 buildings were destroyed and 21 people were killed, with dozens more injured.

According to witnesses the blast was so powerful that debris was spotted 35 kilometres away.

The disaster caused $47 million in damages and is considered one of the largest man-made explosions in United States history. 

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