It wasn't thunder. There were clear blue skies outside. Was it a big truck going by? We weren't near any major roads. An earthquake? In Houston, no... I didn't know what was happening, the doors were rattling, the curtains were swaying, and the blinds were beating against the windows. Finally, it all stopped.
Since it was a school morning, my mom opened my door a few minutes later. She wanted to make sure I was up for school. Even though I was 13, I couldn't help what I said next. "What... the f***... was that?!"
My words didn't phase my mom. A look in her eyes told me she felt the same way, "I don't know! It woke me up too!" We got up and turned on the news. The entire city of Houston, Texas, felt it, but no one know what it was yet. News helicopters were up in the air looking for smoke. Everything seemed to be learning towards an explosion at this point.
In previous years, the Texas Gulf Coast has had numerous plant explosions. The most famous of which was the Philips 66 explosion in the late 80s. People could see the black smoke for miles. There has been a good handful of industrial accidents which have triggered plant explosions and so most Houstonians would think "plant explosion" before they'd think "earthquake," and go looking outside for smoke.
On this morning however, with all of Houston feeling it, there was no smoke to be seen. Everyone was confused. I got on the school bus and headed into school. I had a walkman with me and I listened to the news on the ride in for further updates.
(Image not from the same incident) Word came in that something had happened 40 miles northwest of Houston, in a small country town called Brenhem, Texas. News helicopters were now flying out that way to investigate. I couldn't believe this could have been related. I thought, whatever happened out there, must be a coincidence. That was too far away. If it was Brenham, Texas, whatever happened must have been MASSIVE! ...it was.
At 7:14am, near Brenham, Texas, an under ground natural gas storage tank leaked. The gas escaped the earth and blended in with the early morning fog. A car drove by and triggered an explosion with the force of a 3 kiloton bomb. A massive fireball transversed the landscape. Two homes were leveled. 3 people were killed, 23 more people were injured, and the damage was estimated to have been $6.5 million. Homes were leveled, blown off their foundain, and windows were blown out in neighboring towns. A lot of injuries actually came from the nearby town of Wesley, Texas.
The blast was estimated to have been as strong as a small earthquake, 3.5 to 4.0 at least, and in a coastal region like southeast Texas, the effects can be felt for quite some distance. People reported shaking from as far West as Austin, Texas, all the way to the coast, and as far East as the Texas-Louisiana state line.
I can't believe I felt it. It was the first earthquake I ever felt and it wasn't even a real earthquake! I still can't believe how such an explosion can be felt from so far away, how it shook my house and made things rattle for more than just a couple of seconds. I mean I had time to sit up in bed, realize that I was awake, and that my house was shaking. I was stunned that I could experience something like that for as long as it lasted.
I guess, 15 years later, I still am a biut surprised, because I still remember this as if it were yesterday. It definitely made a lasting impression on me. A part of my job actually covers "safety" now and I'll never forget what happened in Brenhan, Texas. I try to be mindful of every safety concern, including what actions I should take, should there be a gas leak at work. I've already had to deal with a fire, as some of you may remember...
So, on April 7th, 2007, here's to looking back, to the lives lost, to the changes made in the industry because of this one incident, alone, and here's to hoping something like this never happens in my homeland again. I know it will... but I hope lives are spared in the future and that the situation will be handled better than it was in Brenham, Texas, or Edison, N.J. in 1994...