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CURSE OF THE NARROWS by Laura M. Mac Donald

CURSE OF THE NARROWS

By Laura M. Mac Donald

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-8027-1458-7
Publisher: Walker

Well-constructed tale of a horrific unnatural disaster in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1917—the largest explosion in world history before the atomic bomb.

On the morning of December 6, 1917, a French freighter called the Mont Blanc, laden with high explosives, collided with a Belgian supply ship called the Imo. The collision set stray grains of notoriously unstable picric acid to blazing, touching off other stores, for “every substance in the Mont Blanc’s cargo was engineered to blow up”; as the Mont Blanc grounded at the city docks, it went up in a blast that climbed nearly half a mile in the air and evaporated the seawater around it. A tsunami followed, then a rain of oil, then concussion and fire, and soon much of Halifax and the surrounding area was obliterated; every building within 16 miles of the blast was damaged, and almost 2,000 people were killed. The city was unprepared for a disaster of such magnitude, while relief efforts that were organized from as far afield as Boston and New York were hampered by the crowning touch—a huge blizzard that swept across Halifax on the night of the blast, muffling the city in a supernatural shroud. The explosion was followed by moments of grace and bad behavior alike—noble acts of heroism here, ignoble acts of looting there. The author’s analysis of the what-ifs and blame-assigning that followed yields surprises—in particular, the official decision on who was at fault.

Drawing on accounts by survivors and rescuers, Halifax native Mac Donald paints a scarifying portrait of a unique moment in maritime history.