1979 Warsaw gas explosion

Last updated
1979 Warsaw gas explosion

Rotunda PKO po wybuchu 15 luty 1979.jpg

Warsaw's PKO Rotunda after the 1979 explosion
Date February 15, 1979
Time 12:37 p.m
Location Warsaw, Poland (intersection of Marszałkowska Street and Aleje Jerozolimskie)
Deaths 49
Non-fatal injuries 135
Property damage PKO Rotunda building

The 1979 explosion at PKO Bank Polski’s Rotunda office in Warsaw took place on February 15, 1979, at 12:37 p.m. As a result, 49 people died and 135 were injured. [1] Officially, the tragedy was caused by a gas explosion, [2] but in the course of time much speculation appeared, and Varsovians talked among themselves that the building had been blown up by a bomb. [3] Furthermore, to many the explosion served as a harbinger of future changes in Poland.

PKO Bank Polski company listed on the Polish Stock Exchange

Powszechna Kasa Oszczędności Bank Polski Spółka Akcyjna is Poland's largest bank. It provides services to individual and business clients. The core business activity of PKO Bank Polski is retail banking. The full name Powszechna Kasa Oszczędności roughly means "General Savings Bank," and Bank Polski means "Polish Bank." Popularly only the acronym is used.

Rotunda (PKO) architectural structure

PKO Rotunda is a rotunda-type building owned by the PKO BP bank in the center of Warsaw, Poland. Designed from 1960–1969 by chief architect Jerzy Jakubowicz, it was the site of the 1979 Warsaw gas explosion. Soon in October 1979 it was rebuilt and opened again.

Warsaw City metropolis in Masovia, Poland

Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. The metropolis stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland and its population is officially estimated at 1.765 million residents within a greater metropolitan area of 3.1 million residents, which makes Warsaw the 8th most-populous capital city in the European Union. The city limits cover 516.9 square kilometres (199.6 sq mi), while the metropolitan area covers 6,100.43 square kilometres (2,355.39 sq mi). Warsaw is an alpha global city, a major international tourist destination, and a significant cultural, political and economic hub. Its historical Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



The winter of 1978/1979 was very harsh in Poland, and due to the extreme temperatures and heavy snowfall it was dubbed “the winter of the century”. [4] Transport in the country came to a standstill, in poorly heated apartments in Warsaw the temperature at night dropped to 7 degrees Celsius, public mood was at a very low level, and the Warsaw poet Tomasz Jastrun, who kept a diary at that time, said: "People were expecting changes. They were convinced that the current situation had to come to an end, and something would happen. Before the change, people said, there would be signs. One of these signs was the Rotunda explosion”. [3] Satirist Michał Ogórek has said that the explosion was a reflection of the gloomy, chaotic and cold period in Polish history.

The explosion

February 15, 1979, was a cold, cloudy day. At 12:37 p.m., the bank’s branch at the Rotunda, located in the strict city centre at the intersection of Marszałkowska Street and Aleje Jerozolimskie, was full of people. The explosion took place twenty minutes before the end of the first shift. At that time, there were 170 PKO employees and around 300 customers in the building. Suddenly, as witnesses later stated, the Rotunda floated in the air like a soap bubble, and then broke into pieces. [5] All the glass walls were shattered, and hundreds of pieces of glass fell onto the sidewalks. Inside the building, floors collapsed into the basement. The explosion was so loud that it was heard by thousands of Varsovians. [6]

Marszałkowska Street, Warsaw Street in Warsaw, Poland

Marszałkowska is one of the main thoroughfares of Warsaw's city center. It links Bank Square in its north sector with Plac Unii Lubelskiej in the south.

70% of the Rotunda was destroyed and emergency crews immediately began[ citation needed ] searching for people buried under the rubble. The last living person was found three hours after the explosion, but some 2,000 workers continued the search for as long as seven days afterward. The construction of the building, which was made of reinforced concrete, literally fell inwards, creating a giant crater. Among the survivors were two female employees of the bank’s safe. The safe itself, located in the basement, was intact. [6]

Search and rescue operation

The central location of the Rotunda in the city made an immediate search and rescue operation possible. Altogether 2,000 people participated in it, commanded by Edward Gierski of the Warsaw Fire Department. Day after day, new bodies were recovered from the ruins. On February 17, four victims were found, on February 19, two. [6] Apart from the firefighters and ambulances crews, passers-by also helped. Blood was donated in a temporary medical office, located at the nearby Hotel Forum (currently Novotel Warszawa Centrum). The Zodiak restaurant offered hot meals to the rescuers, hundreds of liters of blood were collected, and witnesses remember terrifying scenes, such as a woman in a blue dress, without an arm. [6] Crowds gathered around the Rotunda, and the place of the explosion was cordoned off by the police. Documents and bills were flying in the air, and the building looked as if it had been bombed.

Search and rescue Search for and provision of aid to people who are in distress or imminent danger

Search and rescue (SAR) is the search for and provision of aid to people who are in distress or imminent danger. The general field of search and rescue includes many specialty sub-fields, typically determined by the type of terrain the search is conducted over. These include mountain rescue; ground search and rescue, including the use of search and rescue dogs; urban search and rescue in cities; combat search and rescue on the battlefield and air-sea rescue over water.

A reporter from "Express Wieczorny" was on the spot within a few minutes, and the newspaper covered the explosion widely. One of its articles stated: At night we meet workers of several building companies, such as Mostostal, Betonstal, Instal, Elektromontaż, as well as boys from Ochotnicze Hufce Pracy and trucks from Betonstal and Transbud. Several trucks haul away debris and parts of the construction non-stop. Leonard Grunerd from Mostostal has worked here four nights in a row. As he says, the first night was the most difficult one, with temperature of minus 20 degrees. "People were cold, we were saved by hot meals and hot beverages from the Zodiak Restaurant – says Grunerd". [6]

The cause of the explosion

Memorial plate for victims of explosion of February 15th, 1979 Rotunda memorial plate Warsaw.jpg
Memorial plate for victims of explosion of February 15th, 1979

Immediately after the explosion, numerous rumors and wild speculation appeared. Warsaw newspapers wrote about the incident, but people, accustomed to Communist propaganda, did not believe in any official explanations. Most common was the rumor about a bomb, planted by main cashier of the bank, who had embezzled large sums of money and caused the explosion to destroy all evidence. A similar rumor stated that the bomb was planted by cronies of a high-ranking Communist party official, who had stolen hundreds of thousands of zlotys. [3]

Another rumor stated that the explosion was caused by robbers, who tried to get to the underground safe from a rail tunnel. They planted a bomb to open the wall of the safe, but miscalculated its power. [3] Satirist Michał Ogórek says that people were also talking among themselves that the incident was part of an inner-party conspiracy, aimed at Edward Gierek and his cabinet. Danuta Szmit-Zawierucha, author of several books about Warsaw, confirms this speculation: “People said that the Rotunda had been blown up by the Communists themselves”. [3] One final rumor stated that the explosion was caused by a mysterious anti-Communist organization, which wanted to blow up the building at midnight, when it was empty, but messed up the timing. [3]

The real cause of the explosion was a gas leak from a damaged pipe located underneath the sidewalk. The gas got into an underground telephone connection and gathered in the basement of the Rotunda. Frozen water and snow clogged all the air vents, and in those circumstances, one spark or the turning on of a light in the basement, was enough to ignite the powerful explosion. [5] The Rotunda itself did not have a gas connection. The low temperature caused the odorant to condense, and nobody was warned of a leak.

Several people, however, still do not believe in this explanation. Edward Gierski, who commanded the search and rescue operation, also has doubts: “Despite all official reports and photos of damaged valves, I am still not sure if the explosion was caused by leakage in a gas pipe. I saw the foundation of the building, which was one meter thick. It broke in half, and it is difficult for me to believe that an underground gas explosion would have caused such destruction”. [3]

Victims and aftermath

A list of victims was published in all the Warsaw newspapers, and condolences were sent by Edward Gierek and Leonid Brezhnev. Every year on the anniversary of the explosion, the management of PKO Bank Polski organizes a special celebration, which is attended by families of the victims, Warsaw authorities and the bank’s managers. [7] Furthermore, there is a commemorative plaque, placed in the northern wall of the complex.

PKO Rotunda in 2006 Rotunda PKO Warszawa.jpg
PKO Rotunda in 2006

The Rotunda was 70% destroyed, [7] and the decision to rebuild it was announced by newspapers as early as February 17. [6] The government of Poland regarded it as a priority, so every day, hundreds of workers cleaned the site and then started construction. Originally, re-opening was scheduled for July 22, 1979, which in Communist times was a national holiday. The project was overseen by a co-designer of the original Rotunda, architect Piotr Zajlich, who introduced several changes in construction, including with the wiring and the usage of offices. The Rotunda was officially reopened in late October 1979, but most of the survivors of the explosion chose not to return to work in that location. Families of the victims received financial compensation in the amount equal to the then-price of a Fiat 126. [1]

See also

Related Research Articles

Polish United Workers Party political party

The Polish United Workers' Party was the Communist party which governed the Polish People's Republic from 1948 to 1989. Ideologically it was based on the theories of Marxism-Leninism. It also controlled the armed forces, the Polish People's Army.

Edward Gierek Polish politician

Edward Gierek was a Polish communist politician. Gierek replaced Władysław Gomułka as first secretary of the ruling Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) in the Polish People's Republic in 1970. He is known for opening communist Poland to Western influence and for his economic policies based on foreign loans, which ultimately failed. He was removed from power after labor strikes led to the Gdańsk Agreement between the communist state and workers of the emerging Solidarity free trade union movement.

Polish Peoples Republic official name of Poland from 1952 to 1989

The Polish People's Republic was a state in Central Europe that existed from 1947 to 1989, and the predecessor of the modern democratic Republic of Poland. With a population of approximately 37.9 million inhabitants near the end of its existence, it was the most populous state of the Eastern Bloc after the Soviet Union. Having a unitary Marxist–Leninist communist government, it was also one of the main signatories of the Warsaw Pact. The official capital since 1947 and largest city was Warsaw, followed by industrial Łódź and cultural Kraków.

Monuments to the Warsaw Uprising

The Monuments to the Warsaw Uprising were first established in Warsaw in the 1970s. Prior to that, there were only monuments to the Red Army soldiers and the Armia Ludowa soldiers. The role of the latter in the city fights in 1944 was exaggerated and overrated. Most of the victims of the Uprising who were buried in graves all over the city were later exhumed and buried in mass graves far away from the city centre, with a small concrete monument to "the victims of the war with Nazism". No mention of the Uprising was allowed.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Warsaw) grave

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a monument in Warsaw, Poland, dedicated to the unknown soldiers who have given their lives for Poland. It is one of many such national tombs of unknowns that were erected after World War I, and the most important such monument in Poland.

Osiedle Zielone Wzgórza, Białystok

Zielone Wzgórza is one of the districts of the Polish city of Białystok.

History of Poland (1945–1989) Communist rule in Poland

The history of Poland from 1945 to 1989 spans the period of Soviet dominance and communist rule imposed after the end of World War II over Poland, as reestablished within new borders. These years, while featuring general industrialization and urbanization and many improvements in the standard of living, were marred by social unrest, political strife and severe economic difficulties.

Humberto Vidal explosion

The Humberto Vidal explosion was a gas explosion that occurred on November 21, 1996 at the Humberto Vidal shoe store located in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. The explosion killed 33 and wounded 69 others when the building collapsed. It is one of the deadliest disasters to have occurred on the island.

Jan Krzysztof Kelus, also known by his initials JKK, is a Polish singer, poet, composer, and a member of the democratic opposition in Poland between the 1960s and 1980s. A professional sociologist, Kelus is best known for a number of ballads which gained him a nickname of the Bard of the opposition and Polish Woody Guthrie.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park park

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a memorial park in the center of Hiroshima, Japan. It is dedicated to the legacy of Hiroshima as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack, and to the memories of the bomb's direct and indirect victims. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is visited by more than one million people each year. The park is there in memory of the victims of the nuclear attack on August 6, 1945. On August 6, 1945 the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima Japan. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was planned and designed by the Japanese Architect Kenzō Tange at Tange Lab.

June 1976 protests

June 1976 is the name of a series of protests and demonstrations in People's Republic of Poland. The protests took place after Prime Minister Piotr Jaroszewicz revealed the plan for a sudden increase in the price of many basic commodities, particularly foodstuffs. Prices in Poland were at that time fixed, and controlled by the government, which was falling into increasing debt.

2007 Glorietta explosion explosion originated from an LPG tank explosion

The 2007 Glorietta explosion occurred in the Glorietta 2 section of the Glorietta shopping complex at Ayala Center in Makati, Metropolitan Manila, in the Philippines, on October 19, 2007, at around 1:25 PM PST. Initial reports indicated that the explosion originated from an LPG tank explosion in a restaurant in the mall. However, authorities were unable to confirm the true nature or source of the explosion. The blast killed eleven people and injured more than a hundred. Many of the victims were admitted at the Makati Medical Center and Ospital ng Makati.

On February 10, 1971, textile workers in the central Polish city of Łódź began a strike action, in which the majority of participants were women. These events have been largely forgotten because a few weeks earlier, major protests and street fights had taken place in the cities of northern Poland. Nevertheless, the women of Łódź achieved what shipyard workers of the Baltic Sea coast failed to achieve - cancellation of the increase in food prices, which had been introduced by the government of Communist Poland in December 1970. Consequently, it was the only industrial action in pre-1980 Communist Poland that ended as a success.

Stanisław Jaros was a Polish electrician who was executed for carrying out two assassination attempts of Polish Communist leader Władysław Gomułka, and one attempt to kill Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Torre Ejecutiva Pemex explosion

On 31 January 2013 in Mexico City, an explosion caused by a gas leak occurred beneath Building B-2 at the Torre Ejecutiva Pemex, a skyscraper complex that is the headquarters of Pemex, the Mexican state oil company. At least 37 people died and another 126 were injured when an explosion occurred in a building adjacent to the main tower. Earlier in the day, Pemex sent out a tweet saying that the building was being evacuated due to a "problem with the electrical system" in the complex that includes the skyscraper.

2017 Lahore explosion

The Defence, Lahore explosion was a blast that took place on 23 February 2017 in a commercial market in Y-block of Defence, Lahore. The timing of the explosion is said to be around 10:00.

Donald Trumps speech in Warsaw, Poland 2018 speech by Donald Trump in Warsaw

U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a public speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument at Krasinski Square, in Warsaw, the capital of Poland on July 6, 2017. During the speech, Donald Trump argued the future of Western freedom is at stake and called to defend the Western civilization against the threats of “terrorism and extremism.”


Coordinates: 52°13′50″N21°00′44″E / 52.23056°N 21.01222°E / 52.23056; 21.01222