Last month was the 35th anniversary of the ammonia truck accident at the interchange of Houston’s Southwest Freeway and Loop 610 that killed six people and injured more than 175 others. This archived recording is the property of my friend Jack Gillum who was a reporter for KPRC Radio, using the air-name Bob Raleigh.
The accident occurred at about 11:15 a.m. on May 11, 1976. A truck carrying 7,500 gallons of anhydrous ammonia was traveling north on 610. While turning onto the Southwest Freeway the driver lost control, careened off the exit ramp, struck a support column and plunged 15 feet onto the Southwest Freeway.
This audio archive begins with the 12 o'clock news, less than an hour after the incident.
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I was a reporter for KULF Radio and was en route to the scene, listening to KPRC, when Raleigh started coughing and went off the air. I immediately pulled off the road to decide whether I should continue to the scene. Then came an announcement that officials were ordering the evacuation of a three-mile area around the interchange. KULF News Director Dan Ammerman immediately radioed me to return to the radio station.
It turned out that the original evacuation order was bungled. The intention was to close the freeways, Loop 610 and the Southwest Freeway, three miles from the interchange in all directions. The only actual evacuation was of the homes near enough to the incident to smell the ammonia. And, of course those who could smell the ammonia did not need to be told to move away. As bad as the situation was in the beginning, the ammonia quickly dissipated and the threat to the neighboring area was minimal.
Listening to the audio, I am impressed by the number of reporters on duty at KPRC back then, when the station was still owned by the Hobby family. In addition to Bob Raleigh, Don Watson was on the scene, Dixie Hawkins was at City Hall with Civil Defense officials, Bill Watts was at Bellaire Hospital; and sports reporter Mike Edmonds, who was a witness to the accident en route to a sports luncheon, reported from his vehicle. Jim Bell, Steve Griffin and Joe Howard also participated in the broadcast.
It was really good radio coverage of a very significant event in Houston.