In the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, January 18, 1977, a series of explosions ripped apart a portion of the Downtown New Bedford Historic District.

Nearly 60 buildings were damaged by the explosions. Miraculously, no one was injured.

The West Island Weather Station says the first explosion occurred at 4:43 a.m.

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The Standard-Times reported in 2016, "In near-Arctic winter weather, the ground had frozen so deep that the 90-pound gas main cracked, leaking gas into several buildings."

The paper reported, "Just before dawn on January 18, the thermostat inside O'Malley's Tavern on Union Street clicked on and ignited the gas."

The National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) report on the incident concluded that natural gas "leaked from a fractured 18-inch steel main to the electric and telephone conduit system." The report stated, "Three explosions destroyed five buildings, and windows four blocks away were blown out."

NTSB could not determine the "source of ignition," but the agency did find that "Excavation of the failed pipe revealed it had been bent by cutting a notch out of it, bending it to the required degree and welding the notch shut."

Courtesy Spinner Publications
Courtesy Spinner Publications

The Board stated, "Although no federal regulations were in effect in 1950 when the pipe was installed, notch welding of pipe was contrary to pipe welding standards which were in effect."

The probable cause of the explosion is listed as "Construction defect – failure of substandard weld – improper pipe bending."

The agency also determined that an "inadequate welding inspection" was performed during construction.

West Island Weather Station reports former New Bedford Tourism Director Arthur Motta said, "The initial blast was so powerful that it shattered most of the (Whaling) Museum's windows, fracturing dozens of sashes and separating dozens of window jambs from the brick walls."

The explosions did not damage the Seamen's Bethel or Mariners' Home.

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