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TIME Magazine, June 5, 1950, p. 21:|
NATIONAL AFFAIRS: DISASTER: State & 63rd
Two heavy thunderstorms hit Chicago in the late afternoon. The drenching rain flooded the paved depression where State Street dips under a bridge out on the sprawling South Side. It forced a trucker named Mel Wilson to drive slowly as he hauled 8,000 gallons of gasoline into the city in a heavy truck & trailer rig. It kept Loop crowds huddled in doorways until just before Chicago Transit Authority streetcar No. 7078--one of a speedy new type which Chicagoans call "Green Hornets"--was quickly jammed.
Mel Wilson's gasoline truck rumbled north toward the Loop and the crowded streetcar clanged south on State Street almost as if they were guided by an evil hand. Both got to a rail turnoff near 63rd Street at the same instant. A flagman waved a warning at the streetcar--a switch had been opened to detour trolley traffic around the flooded pavement ahead. But No. 7078 did not stop.
It hit the switch at almost 30 m.p.h., swerved across the street to the left, and crashed into the big grey tanks behind Trucker Wilson's cab. They ripped open like cardboard. Gasoline cascaded out, and caught fire almost instantly with a soft, terrible, thudding sound.
Trapped Inside. Within seconds, streams of blazing gasoline were running across the pavement to the gutters. Towering sheets of fire burst up around the gushing truck; they puffed into the shattered front of the streetcar almost before the dazed and frightened passengers had recovered from the shock of the collision. Screaming, cursing, they piled toward the rear of the car, clotted there in a clawing, trampling mass.
Of the trapped, 44 people got out. A 14-year-old girl named Beverly Clark yanked an emergency cord, opened a side door, and escaped. Other men & women were pushed or pulled out through broken windows, ran off white and bleeding, some with their hair and clothes on fire. One man pulled red-hot metal strips out of a side window with his bare hands, tumbled out crying in agony. But in three minutes the whole car was enveloped in fire; the trucker was dead in his cab and the screaming had stopped.
A fleet of 33 fire trucks converged, sirens moaning, on the burning wrecks. By the time they got there, flame was shooting 300 feet into the air and heat was melting overhead trolley wires, and turning the asphalt paving to lava. Five nearby houses and buildings were on fire. There was nothing to do but pump in water and chemicals, clear the buildings--and wait.
Tolling the Dead. An hour passed before the gasoline finally burned itself out. In the silence which followed, firemen and policemen advanced on the blackened streetcar, hacked its doors open. Then, faces set, they began carrying out blackened bodies which were stacked like cordwood on the rear platform. A crowd of 15,000 which watched from behind fire lines began counting aloud, as each corpse was removed. Thirty-three had died; 40 had been injured. It was the worst city traffic accident in U.S. history.
The "Green Hornet" streetcar disaster occurred on May 25, 1950.
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