Curse Of The Narrows by Laura M Mac Donald
On December 6th, 1917 the munitions ship Mont Blanc collided with the Imo in Halifax Harbour and set off a chain of events that resulted in the largest explosion in North America to date. In an instant over 2,000 people killed; 6,000 wounded; 9,000 were made homeless and 300 people blinded. The city of Haliax, Novia Scotia was destroyed. After the disaster a blizzard covered the entire area, delaying help, and destroying hope.
This book starts on December 5th and introduces us to the people involved and the city itself. It reads as a narrated documentary rather than a fiction book. And that was my one disappointment. I have read many historical fiction books that have stayed true to the facts and lets the reader enjoy an excellent narrative. Ms. MacDonald could have done that here, but alas she did not. That aside this story is one of despair and horror and the hope and strength of the people of Halifax and Boston. Boston was the first city to respond en mass and the relief was so complete and so needed that to this day, the people of Halifax send to the people of Boston a Christmas tree for the Boston Commons.
To give you an idea of the size of the explosion I give you this well written well researched excerpt:
Altogether 2,925 tons of power exploded, giving off over 9,000F hear. All 6,880,627 pounds of the Mont Blanc's iron hull shot up over a thousand feet, roiling within the initial flame ball until much of it vaporized. The anchor snapped its chain and separated, sending the 1,140 pound shank across the city for 2.35 miles. The aft canon shot off the stern and landed in a small lake three miles away
...the sound arrived first travelling at 12,230 miles per hour..People as far away as 225 miles reported hearing a low boom. When it was over not one of the 12,000 buildings within a 16 miles radius was left intact.
...in the harbor, the heat of the explosion was so intense that a 20 foot radius of water around the Mont Blanc instantly evaporated...water from all over the harbor rushed to fill the void , creating a geyser that collapsed under it's own weight and cause a 20 foot tsunami that flooded the already destroyed city.
And that is chapter 3. The book goes on to tell the story of the city and it's people at first in the rescue stage and then in the recovery stage. It is a fantastic story giving the time and place. the fact that WWI is just over the horizon, that the area is hit with 2 blizzards right after the explosion. And organizations like the Red Cross are just in it's infantsy. One doctor works for 80 hours straight removing the ruined eyes of all those who watched the collision through their windows and had glass embedded deep in their skulls. Men who were in the harbor trying to fight the fire on the Mont Blanc one minute found themselves on the other side of the harbor, their boat missing, with nothing but their boots on. The only firefighter to survive the blast was the truck driver, he awoke naked on a hill one mile away from the harbor still holding part of the steering wheel in his hand.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history or the reaction to disaster by the victims and the rescuers, especially with the Tsunami and Katrina still fresh in our minds. Check it out!