Eyewitness remembers Houston fireworks explosion in 1953

Wednesday, December 21, 2016
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Eyewitness remembers Houston fireworks explosion in 1953, Kevin Quinn reports.

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The blast at a fireworks market in Mexico has re-ignited long forgotten memories of a similar explosion in Houston, 63 years ago.

It was June 5, 1953 at the Alco Fireworks warehouse off Rosine Street between West Dallas and West Clay. A fireworks display under construction burned after 45,000 pounds of explosives were ignited.

"All of a sudden we heard this loud boom!" said Joe Nezval.

The 87-year-old says he was 23 or 24 years old when he witnessed the explosion. He was less than a mile from Alco running errands in the River Oaks Shopping Center.

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(Houston Fire Department)
Houston Fire Department

"I was standing there with my mouth open mostly," he said.

He remembers vividly what the salesman said as he felt the blast and how the thick plate glass windows of the wine store where he was were destroyed.

"It just shattered..Ba-boom! And he went to the floor and he said we're being bombed. We're being bombed!" Nezval recounted.

RELATED: 31 dead, many hurt in blast at Mexican fireworks market

He described what they saw as they stepped outside.

"When we went outside, we saw this cloud and it looked like an atomic bomb. He says 'its an atomic bomb its an atomic bomb.' I said I don't think so! But I said it's a hell-of-an explosion!" he said.

According to news reports from the time, the explosion at Alco fireworks killed four and injured many more.

Nezval, who later went on to serve in the US Army as a combat engineer, says he never personally witnessed another explosion of the same magnitude.

"It just completely caught me off guard, but I didn't panic." he said.

For that, he is thankful.

Following the explosions 1953, the city of Houston enacted a new ordinance to keep such a tragedy from every happening again in the city limits. That made it illegal to make, store, possess, transport or light fireworks within the city limits.

ABC News reports the death toll from the explosion in Mexico is now at 31. Dozens more were wounded, including at least three children now coming to Shriner's Hospital in Galveston for burn treatment.