Los Alfaques disaster

Last updated

Los Alfaques disaster
Date11 July 1978 (1978-07-11)
Location Alcanar, Tarragona, Spain
Deaths217
Non-fatal injuries200+

The Los Alfaques disaster was a road accident and tanker explosion which occurred on 11 July 1978 in Alcanar, near Tarragona, in Spain. The tanker truck was loaded with 23 tons of highly flammable liquefied propylene. 217 people (including the driver) were killed and 200 more severely burned.

Alcanar Municipality in Catalonia, Spain

Alcanar is a Spanish municipality of the Catalan comarca of Montsià, in the Tarragona province. It is a coastal town on the Mediterranean Sea. The Serra del Montsià range and its foothills rise above the town and its surroundings. According to data from 2006 its population is 9,620 inhabitants, although this increased the next year, to 9,969. It is the southernmost town in Catalonia, located just north of the border with the municipality of Vinaròs which is in the province of Castellón and part of the region of Valencia.

Tarragona Municipality in Catalonia

Tarragona is a port city located in northeast Spain on the Costa Daurada by the Mediterranean Sea. Founded before the 5th century BC, it is the capital of the Province of Tarragona, and part of Tarragonès and Catalonia. Geographically, it is bordered on the north by the Province of Barcelona and the Province of Lleida. The city has a population of 201,199 (2014).

Contents

Most of the victims were vacationers in the Los Alfaques seaside campsite. The campsite is located at km 159 on the N-340 national road, 2 km south of the town of Sant Carles de la Ràpita. It has been renovated since and still exists today.

N-340 road (Spain)

The N-340 is a major highway in Spain. It is over 1,000 km long starting south of Barcelona and running predominantly along the coast to Chiclana de la Frontera and the N-IV to Cádiz. In many places the road has now been by-passed by the Autovía A-7 and Autopista AP-7.

Sant Carles de la Ràpita Municipality in Catalonia, Spain

Sant Carles de la Ràpita is a town in the area of the Montsià in Catalonia, Spain. The town covers a portion of the south-west of the Ebro Delta, including el Trabucador isthmus and la Banya peninsula, which close off a salt water lagoon known as the Port dels Alfacs. The town of Sant Carles de la Ràpita is situated on the coast near the mouth of the lagoon. It was founded by Charles III of Spain as a port to serve trade with the Spanish colonies, and constructed in the neoclassical style of the period. However, much of the town remained uncompleted after Charles' death.

memorial site on the side of a building at the campground Los Alfaques Gedenken.jpg
memorial site on the side of a building at the campground

Circumstances

The truck, consisting of a Pegaso [1] tractor unit registered M-7034-C and a Fruehauf semi-trailer tanker registered M-7981-R, was owned by Cisternas Reunidas S.A. At 10:15 that day, the truck, driven by 50-year-old Francisco Imbernón Villena, arrived at the state-owned Enpetrol refinery, located at La Pobla de Mafumet, 9 km North of Tarragona, to be loaded with propylene for another state-owned company, Paular (now Repsol), from Puertollano.

Pegaso Spanish make of trucks, omnibuses, tractors, armored vehicles and sports cars

Pegaso was a Spanish manufacturer of trucks, omnibuses, tractors, armored vehicles, and, for a while, sports cars. The parent company, Enasa, was created in 1946 and based in the old Hispano-Suiza factory, under the direction of the renowned automotive engineer Wifredo Ricart. In 1990, Iveco took over Enasa, and the Pegaso name disappeared in 1994.

Tractor unit characteristically heavy-duty towing engine that provides motive power for hauling a towed or trailered load

A tractor unit is a characteristically heavy-duty towing engine that provides motive power for hauling a towed or trailered load. These fall into two categories: heavy and medium duty military and commercial rear-wheel drive "semi tractors" used for hauling semi-trailers, and very heavy-duty typically off-road-capable, often 6×6, military and commercial tractor units, including ballast tractors.

Semi-trailer Trailer vehicle without a front axle

A semi-trailer is a trailer without a front axle. In the United States, the term is also used to refer to the combination of a truck and a semi-trailer, a tractor-trailer.

At 12:05 the truck left the refinery carrying 23 tons of propylene, nearly 4 tons over the maximum design load of 19.35 tons. The tanker drivers were under instructions to take the smaller N-340 national road instead of the larger A-7 motorway when carrying cargo to Barcelona, in order to avoid the motorway toll.[ citation needed ] The N-340 was much narrower and more winding than the A-7, and also carried drivers directly through several densely populated areas.

Autopista AP-7 Spanish autopista

The Autopista AP-7 is a Spanish autopista. It is a toll motorway that runs along the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

On a summer day with temperatures from 20–35 °C (68–95 °F), the pressure in the tank would have been 1,200–1,700 kPa (170–250 psi). [2]

Accident

The disaster occurred at ca. 14:35, while the truck was moving past the Los Alfaques campsite after having travelled 102 km. [3] The driver's watch, which was found still attached to the driver's burned wrist, had stopped at 14:36, the time of the explosion. [3]

There are several different witness reports as to the events directly preceding the blast, all of which are more or less equally plausible. Some reported the tank was already leaking as it approached the site, or sprung a leak with a loud bang while passing the site, and was then stopped by the driver. Others reported the bang being caused by a blown tire which caused the truck to swerve out of control and strike the wall separating the campsite from the roadside, possibly overturning in the process. [3]

In either case, the leaking tanker formed a cloud of gaseous propylene that partially entered the campsite and also drifted on the wind towards a discothèque to the northeast. The white cloud attracted the attention of campsite patrons, who approached the cloud with curiosity as it continued to spread. As the cloud began to permeate the crowded discothèque, it reached an ignition source and immediately flashed back into the tanker, causing a fire that nearly instantaneously ruptured the weakened tank and ignited the full load of gas.

At that time the campsite to the south was crowded with nearly 1,000 vacationers, mostly German and other foreign tourists, packed tightly in trailers and tents. The blast and fireball (which was estimated at over 1000 °C and left a 65'x5' [19.8 x 1.5 meters] crater[ citation needed ]) destroyed everything – cars, trailers and buildings – within a 300-metre radius, gutting over 90% of the main camping area. The discothèque to the northeast, which was later determined to be the likely source of the ignition, was also razed, killing all the staff members inside.

Victims and emergency response

The explosion and fireball instantly killed the driver and other people within the area. A total of 157 people died on site as a result of the initial explosion and the subsequent fires and explosions of cars and gas cylinders used by the tourists. Victims were seen with their hair and clothing aflame running into the sea in an attempt to extinguish the flames.

In the first 45 minutes after the disaster, the wounded were removed in an uncoordinated fashion with the help of other survivors using their own cars and vans. Locals also provided help and took the wounded to the hospitals. Ambulances and other emergency forces gradually arrived. The Civil Guard and the armed forces searched the devastated camp for survivors. It took three hours until the last wounded was removed and taken to hospital.

The burning tanker blocked the road, dividing the injured into two groups, one being taken northwards and the other southwards. On the road to the north, the injured received adequate medical care, once they had reached either the hospitals at Amposta or at Tortosa. At this stage, the final destination of 58 severely burned patients was the Francisco Franco Hospital in Barcelona. 82 severely burned patients were taken south to the La Fe Hospital in Valencia. In most cases no medical steps of any importance were taken during the journey. Several of the injured developed severe shock on the journey and had no measurable blood pressure on arrival. Many of the patients had burns covering more than 90% of their bodies, and most of them died during the following days. Contributing to the high mortality figure was the inappropriate medical care given en route to the hospital. [4]

In the week following the disaster, the patients from France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands were evacuated to their own countries.

300 people were wounded, some of them severely. 217 people died as a result of the disaster, while the total number of people who died over the following months as a result of their injuries was at least 270. Among them, four were Spaniards, and all the others were foreigners. The official figure for the number of victims is 215. [5]

Many of the victims were burned beyond recognition. Most of them were wearing only swimming suits, and the building where their documents were stored was destroyed in the explosion. There was no DNA test available at that time. As a result of the work done by the forensic teams from the tourists' home countries, all the victims were eventually identified.

Seven of the victims remained unidentified until some time later, and they were interred at the cemetery of Tortosa, Tarragona. The bodies of a French family, consisting of a couple and their two children, were returned to France some years later, after compensation had been settled. The bodies of another family of three originating from Colombia were never sent home, and they remain the only foreigners to be interred at the cemetery of Tortosa along with local victims. [6]

Inquiry

Following the accident, Cisternas Reunidas accepted responsibility for the disaster, but denied any order or prohibition to the drivers to use the motorway instead of the national road, claiming that it is the driver who chooses which road to take. Later, some workers at the Tarragona plant stated they heard Imbernón heatedly arguing with someone on the phone and demanding money for the motorway toll. [7] Enpetrol initially declined any responsibility, claiming that the delivery of the cargo is on the carrier's responsibility, and they have not received any complaint. [8]

The official inquiry identified that the truck had been severely overloaded, and also lacked emergency pressure release valves, which are designed to help prevent a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE) in case of a fire. However, these valves were no longer mandatory in 1978, although they previously were. The truck was due for an inspection check-over in 1980, and it had passed the previous inspection.

The tank container was manufactured at 13 December 1973 by a workshop from Bilbao, [9] and at that time it did not meet the requirements for carrying flammable liquids, since it lacked emergency pressure release valves. Therefore, the tank had been used to carry other substances, some of which were highly corrosive. Tests on the remnants of the steel tank revealed microscopic stress cracks consistent with corrosion caused by previous loads of improperly overpressurized anhydrous ammonia. Combined with whether the tanker suffered an impact that caused additional structural damage, these factors likely led to the almost instantaneous rupture of the tank when the flames flashed back into the tanker. Even without safety valves, a structurally sound and properly filled tanker should have been able to maintain structural integrity in a fire long enough to at least allow nearby people to escape.

The inquiry also revealed that overloading of tankers was common practice at Enpetrol refineries. The Tarragona facility lacked either a meter to measure the amount of gas dispensed or an automatic shut-off device to prevent overfilling, and consequently most tanks were consistently overloaded. The driver was neither informed of the overloading, nor about the type and class of the cargo, and there was no means for him to check the pressure level of the tank before he departed or to monitor it in transit. He had not attended the hazmat training program for drivers of dangerous goods, because the company considered his experience of twenty years as a truck driver to be sufficient. The inquiry also determined that, between 3 January and 7 July that year, 32 tanks left the Tarragona refinery overloaded, with drivers other than Imbernón.

Aftermath

After the tragedy, the transit of populated areas by vehicles carrying dangerous cargo was prohibited in Spain, and would only be driven at night.

In 1982, four employees of ENPETROL and two of Cisternas Reunidas were convicted of criminal negligence, and were sentenced to prison for between one and four years. Later, four of them were released after appealing the Court's decision, and all prison sentences were suspended or reduced. The two companies paid an equivalent of €13.23 million (not allowing for inflation)[ citation needed ] as compensation to the victims.

The accident is featured in the 2007 German film Day of Disaster, directed by Peter Keglevic. However, the film is loosely based on real facts, and contains blunders and factual errors, such as cars or registration plates which could only have appeared years later, [10] or the driver spending the night before at home with the already (over)loaded tanker parked in front of his house.

Los Alfaques today

Six months after the tragedy, the completely renovated campsite was reopened to tourists. [11]

The owners of the Los Alfaques campsite have sought relief through Spanish courts under the newly approved "Right to Be Forgotten" Act passed by Spain in regard to having the disaster land as the top 12 search results on Google, including thumbnail disturbing images of remains and coroner procedures during cleanup of the campground. [12] The trial was dismissed, informing the plaintiffs that they would need to pursue a U.S. lawsuit against Google.

Notes

  1. Photos of the truck at bomberiles.com. Retrieved on 11 July 2011.
  2. "Gas Encyclopedia, Vapor Pressure Graph, Propene". Air Liquide.
  3. 1 2 3 Route1963 (21 February 2013). "EN LA CARRETERA II: LA TRAGEDIA DEL CAMPING DE LOS ALFAQUES. 11 de Julio de 1978. (2ª parte). El camión que sembró la muerte" . Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  4. Burn Centre, University Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden doi : 10.1016/0305-4179(81)90104-2
  5. Microsoft Word – Sentencia Alfaques.doc Archived 23 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine . (PDF) . Retrieved on 11 July 2011.
  6. Diario de Córdoba, 11/07/2003 (in Spanish). Diariocordoba.com. Retrieved on 11 July 2011.
  7. Route1963 (21 February 2013). "EN LA CARRETERA II: LA TRAGEDIA DEL CAMPING DE LOS ALFAQUES. 11 de Julio de 1978. (2ª parte). El camión que sembró la muerte" . Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  8. Article in Spanish. Traficoadr.com. Retrieved on 11 July 2011.
  9. Photos of the tank container at bomberiles.com. Retrieved on 11 July 2011.
  10. "Day of Disaster". 9 September 2007. Retrieved 20 February 2017 via IMDb.
  11. Article in Spanish. Traficoadr.com. Retrieved on 11 July 2011.
  12. Anderson, Nate (February 12, 2012). "Spain asks: If Google search results make your business look bad, can you sue?". Ars Technica. Retrieved July 2013.Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)

Related Research Articles

Boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion

A boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion is an explosion caused by the rupture of a vessel containing a pressurized liquid that has reached temperatures above its boiling point. Because the boiling point of a liquid rises with pressure, the contents of the pressurized vessel can remain liquid so long as the vessel is intact. If the vessel's integrity is compromised, the loss of pressure and dropping boiling point can cause the liquid to rapidly convert to gas and expand extremely rapidly.

Texas City Refinery explosion 2005 deadly refinery plant accident

The Texas City Refinery explosion occurred on March 23, 2005, when a hydrocarbon vapor cloud was ignited and violently exploded at the ISOM isomerization process unit at BP's Texas City refinery in Texas City, Texas, killing 15 workers, injuring 180 others and severely damaging the refinery. The Texas City Refinery was the second-largest oil refinery in the state, and the third-largest in the United States with an input capacity of 437,000 barrels (69,500 m3) per day as of January 1, 2000. BP acquired the Texas county refinery as part of its merger with Amoco in 1999.

Kenneth Wilfrid Bishop is a recipient of the Cross of Valour, Canada's highest civilian award for bravery.

Formosa Plastics propylene explosion

The Formosa Plastics Propylene Explosion was a propylene release and explosion that occurred on October 6, 2005, in the Olefins II Unit at the Formosa Plastics plant in Point Comfort, Texas, United States. The subsequent fire burned for five days.

2008 Georgia sugar refinery explosion Sugar Dust Explosion

The 2008 Georgia sugar refinery explosion was an industrial disaster that occurred on February 7, 2008, in Port Wentworth, Georgia, United States. Fourteen people were killed and forty injured when a dust explosion occurred at a sugar refinery owned by Imperial Sugar. Dust explosions had been an issue of concern among United States authorities since three fatal accidents in 2003, with efforts made to improve safety and reduce the risk of recurrence.

The Feyzin disaster occurred in a refinery near the town of Feyzin, 10 kilometres south of Lyon, France, on 4 January 1966. An LPG spill occurred when an operator was draining water from a 1,200m³ pressurised propane tank. The resultant cloud of propane vapour spread, until it was ignited by a car on an adjoining road. The pool of propane in the bund caused the storage tank to be engulfed in flames, which produced a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion (BLEVE) when the tank ruptured. This resulted in a fireball which killed and injured firemen and spectators. Flying missiles broke the legs of an adjacent sphere which later BLEVE'd. Three further spheres toppled due to the collapse of support legs which were not adequately fire protected. These vessels ruptured but did not explode. A number of petrol and crude oil tanks also caught fire. The conflagration took 48 hours to bring under control. This incident resulted in the deaths of 18 people, the injury of 81 and extensive damage to the site.

2009 Cataño oil refinery fire Explosion and fire in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, US

The 2009 Cataño oil refinery fire was a fire that began with an explosion on October 23, 2009, and was extinguished on October 25 at the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation oil refinery and oil depot in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. While the fire and subsequent explosion occurred close to the city of Cataño, it technically occurred within the borders of Bayamón, even though Cataño was more affected by fumes and evacuation. There were no fatalities, but 3 people were injured.

Langenweddingen level crossing disaster train wreck

The Langenweddingen rail disaster near Magdeburg in East Germany caused 94 deaths. It occurred on 6 July 1967 at the village of Langenweddingen, today part of the Sülzetal municipality, on the Magdeburg–Thale railway in the then East Germany when a bilevel train struck a fuel tanker, which exploded as a result of the collision, at a level crossing of Highway 81.

2010 South Kivu fuel tank explosion

The catastrophe of Sange was the explosion of a tank truck on 2 July 2010 in South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The truck overturned in the village of Sange and later exploded, resulting in at least 230 deaths and 196 injured.

The Naval Battle of Tarragona fought between 4 and 6 July 1641, was a naval engagement of the Reapers' War in which a Spanish galley fleet led by the Duke of Fernandina attempted to break the French naval blockade over Tarragona, at that time besieged by land by the French and Catalan armies under the French Viceroy of Catalonia. The French blockading fleet was under command of Henri d'Escoubleau de Sourdis, Archbishop of Bordeaux, and consisted both of sailing and rowing vessels. On 4 July it was engaged by the Spanish galleys, of which some managed to enter the port of the town during a fierce action. In the end, a large number of Spanish galleys were abandoned when their crews panicked and fled to the beaches. On the night of 6 July Abraham Duquesne escorted 5 fireships to the mole of the harbor, where the Spanish galleys were abandoned, and set fire to them.

A gas carrier is a ship designed to transport LPG, LNG or liquefied chemical gases in bulk.

Okobie road tanker explosion Road tanker accident and subsequent deadly explosion in Nigeria

The Okobie road tanker explosion occurred on 12 July 2012 when a tank truck in Okobie, Nigeria, fell into a ditch, spilled its petrol contents, and subsequently exploded, killing at least 121.

2013 Ecatepec de Morelos gas tanker explosion Tanker truck accident and explosion

On 7 May 2013, a tanker truck carrying liquefied petroleum gas lost control and ran into several cars and houses before it exploded on Federal Highway 85 in San Pedro Xalostoc community in Ecatepec de Morelos, Mexico. 27 people were killed and more than 30 injured as a result of the accident. The resulting fires damaged 45 homes and 16 vehicles.

The Kingman explosion, also known as the Doxol disaster or Kingman BLEVE, was a catastrophic boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE) that occurred on July 5, 1973, in Kingman, Arizona.

Caphiridzange explosion

The Caphiridzange explosion occurred on 17 November 2016. 80 people were killed and more than a hundred people injured in a fuel tanker explosion in the town of Caphiridzange in Mozambique's Tete Province. The fuel tanker was en route to Malawi at the time and carried 30,000 liters of gasoline. The government subsequently declared three days of national mourning on 19 November to pay tribute to the victims.

2017 Bahawalpur explosion

On 25 June 2017, a tanker truck exploded near Ahmedpur East in Pakistan's Bahawalpur District, killing 219 people and injuring at least 34 others. The truck overturned when its driver attempted to make a sharp turn on the N-5 National Highway. Once the news of the accident spread to nearby villages, hundreds of residents rushed to the scene to loot the truck of its cargo. The truck then exploded; early reports suggested the explosion was caused by someone lighting a cigarette.

Morogoro tanker explosion fuel tanker explosion in Tanzania

On 10 August 2019, a fuel tanker exploded in Morogoro, Tanzania, killing at least 75 people and injuring at least 55 others. The event was one of the largest disasters of its kind to happen in Tanzania.

References

Coordinates: 40°35′43″N0°34′14″E / 40.59528°N 0.57056°E / 40.59528; 0.57056