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Great Molasses Flood of 1919 Finally Figured Out

Image: Great Molasses Flood of 1919 Finally Figured Out

In this Jan. 15, 1919, file photo, the ruins of tanks containing 2 1/2 million gallons of molasses lie in a heap after an eruption that hurled trucks against buildings and crumpled houses in the North End of Boston. (AP Photo, File)
 

By    |   Wednesday, 30 Nov 2016 09:14 AM

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in Boston was likely caused by cold weather, according to new research on the disaster reported by the Christian Science Monitor Tuesday.

The flood, known as one of America's most unusual tragedies, occurred after a tank failure at the Purity Distilling Co. on Boston's waterfront sent a 25-foot wave of molasses through the city's north end, killing 21 people and injury 150 others, according to the website.

More than 2.3 million gallons of molasses swept through the neighborhood like a tsunami at more than 50 feet per second, wrote the Monitor.

Now, a team of Harvard University researchers have studied the disaster to get a better understanding of fluid dynamics. They concluded that cold temperatures quickly thickened the molasses and determined that the tragedy could have claimed fewer lives if it happened during any other season, according to The Associated Press.

Nicole Sharp, an engineer who presented the team's findings this month at a conference of the American Physical Society, told CBC News that the team matched its research with historical records to find clues.

"For the first 30 to 60 seconds or so, according to our calculations, that wave would have moved a lot like a tsunami, if you could imagine that," Sharp said. "In that moment, what mattered about the molasses was its weight and heavy density. So, for that initial minute, you just have this massive wave of heavy fluid that's crashing through everything"

"After that first minute or so, that's when the fact that it's molasses, and molasses is incredibly viscous, so it's really thick and it likes to try to resist flow, that's when that starts coming into play. Then you go from being a sort of tsunami to being like a seeping. It's a seamless transition between those, but the longer you go after that first minute the more the viscosity of the molasses matters and the more it's going to kind of seep through the neighborhood and creep," she continued.

Sharp said the cold temperature of the day made the Great Molasses Flood more dangerous because it allowed the continued spread of the substance through the neighborhood.

"Now people who have been knocked down by that initial wave who may have been pinned in wreckage are trapped in places where they have to try to keep this molasses away from their mouth and nose so they can breathe while people are trying to come and get them," Sharp told CBC News. "That extra cold makes the molasses easily four or more times as viscous as before and that makes it much harder to fight."

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The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in Boston was likely caused by cold weather, according to new research on the disaster reported by the Christian Science Monitor Tuesday.
great molasses, flood, cold, weather
437
2016-14-30
Wednesday, 30 Nov 2016 09:14 AM
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