A gasoline tanker truck crashes into an ice cream parlor in Herborn, Germany, on this day in 1987. The resulting explosion and fire killed 50 people.
The truck was carrying a full load of gasoline, nearly 7,000 gallons, when it exited the Frankfurt-Rhur autobahn, a major highway in Germany. It was about 8:30 in the evening as the truck came through the center of Herborn. When its brakes overheated and failed, the truck plowed straight into a building containing an ice cream parlor and pizzeria. There was no immediate explosion and the truck’s driver managed to escape with only minor injuries.
As gasoline poured from the ruptured tanker, though, nearly 50 people were trapped in the ice cream parlor; fortunately, the pizzeria had already closed. When the gasoline exploded, the building was completely destroyed and all those inside died. A chain reaction of explosions caused gas pipes in neighboring homes to ignite and manhole covers to fly into the air on a nearby street.
Meanwhile, gasoline continued to flow out of the truck and began to flood the town’s underground sewage system. Deadly fumes also permeated the town center. Twenty-thousand homes in the vicinity were evacuated while firefighters fought to contain the damage. Approximately 25 people were seriously injured but could not be evacuated by cars because people coming to view the enormous fire had crowded the roads. Helicopters were used to take them to area hospitals.