We’re very lucky to be in an area that is not prone to natural disasters. We rarely experience tornadoes, earthquakes or other severe natural events. Still, we have had some devastating storms along with man-made disasters including fires and transportation accidents. The following are some of the most devastating disasters our state has ever overcome.
1. Hoboken Docks Fire - June 30, 1900
This horrific tragedy was responsible for the largest death toll of any single disaster in New Jersey history. Over 300 people perished after cotton bales caught fire on the Norddeutscher Lloyd Shipping Company's southernmost wharf. The fire spread rapidly, quickly engulfing the wooden piers and ships docked in the area. The piers were eventually rebuilt with steel, as seen in the 1909 photo above.
2. German Sabotage on Jersey Soil - July 31,1916
We're all familiar with the Pearl Harbor Attack which led to U.S. involvement in WWII, but have you ever heard of the Black Tom Explosion? This foreign attack on American soil led to the deaths of at least 7 people and caused significant property damage. WWI was in full effect and Black Tom Island, part of Jersey City, was a major munitions depot. One of the largest in the Northeast, it supplied the vast majority of weapons to our European allies. It took years for investigators to determine the cause of the fires which led to the munitions explosions, but it turns out the culprit was sabotage by German agents. The explosion was so massive, it created the force of a 5.5 magnitude earthquake that could be felt in Maryland, according to the Smithsonian.
3. T.A. Gillespie Explosion - October 4, 1918
Another WWI-era explosion, this one is believed to have been an accident. An explosion at the T. A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant triggered a fire and subsequent explosions that lasted for three days. The facility, one of the largest in the world at the time, was destroyed along with more than 300 buildings in the Sayreville and South Amboy neighborhoods. An estimated 100 people perished, though the exact number is not known.
4. Nixon Nitration Works Explosion - March 1, 1924
Nixon Nitration Works manufactured cellulose nitrate, a highly flammable material. The Works encompassed several plants over a 12-mile area; one of those plants was leased as a storage facility for artillery shells and other explosives - a recipe for disaster. An explosion in the storage facility caused fires in nearby buildings. These fires spread for hours, eventually approaching the Raritan Arsenal. Though the building was partially destroyed by the explosion, the fire was extinguished just in time, preventing damage to the highly-explosive shells stored in the facility. Still, the town of Nixon was entirely demolished; the city of Edison now stands its place.
5. Hindenburg Fire - May 6, 1937
Travel by airship was the way of the future, until the Hindenburg disaster. After a successful trip from Germany to the United States, the Hindenburg was docked for landing in Lakehurst. Mooring lines had already been dropped when a fire broke out. The cause is unknown but the fire spread rapidly. The entire ship was engulfed in flames and dozens died. Miraculously, there were many survivors. Some are still alive today.
6. Flanders Tornado - May 28, 1973
This F3 tornado was one of the strongest to ever touch down in New Jersey. A dozen homes were destroyed and there were several injuries, though thankfully no casualties.
7. Hurricane Sandy - October 29, 2012
Nearly three years after this storm, the state is still rebuilding. One of the worst hurricanes to hit New Jersey in modern times, winds hit speeds of 80 miles per hour and and flooding caused millions of dollars of damage. The storm led to widespread power outages, a fuel shortage and 37 deaths. Affecting mainly the Jersey Shore and Hudson Waterfront, Southern Bergen County also experienced severe flooding when a berm in the area failed.
8. Seaside Park Fire - September 12, 2013
Less than a year after Sandy ravaged the area, a fire broke out on Funtown Pier. Over 50 businesses were destroyed, many of which had recently been rebuilt. 400 firefighters fought the 10 alarm blaze for hours. There were 3 injuries, but no casualties.
Though we’ve taken some tough blows, we’ve come back stronger each time. We know how to stick together and support our neighbors. After Sandy, we shared generators, donated food, and volunteered to help rebuild. Through all the darkness, we found light and showed the world just how strong we are. Jersey strong!