PennDOT Building Implosion

August 1, 1998 7:01 AM

Harrisburg, PA

The old Pennsylvania Department of Transportation building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was imploded on August 1, 1998. A fire in the building in 1994 caused extensive damage to three floors of the building. Because of problems with asbestos, it was decided to tear the building down and replace it rather than trying to repair it.

The implosion was a very impressive spectacle. There were hundreds of people viewing it from the same location I was in. When the first blast occurred, it really made me jump, even though I was expecting it. After the initial large explosion, the later ones were smaller. There was a seemingly v-e-r-y long delay between the first blast and when the building started to fall. You could hear gasps from the spectators starting to worry that the implosion didn't work... But when the building did finally start to fall, it fell "like a rock", coming down very quickly. A great cheer rose from the crowd as the building finally started to fall.

The implosion created an enormous cloud of very dense dust that drifted towards the State Capitol building to the east. There was a press photographer near me that had a walkie-talkie tuned to the channel that the television crews from Channel 8 (WGAL) were using. After the blast, the camera operators on the top of the capitol dome commented that they could no longer see the sun, even though it was a brilliant sunny day.

Although I had gotten up at 3 AM and driven over an hour to get there in time to get an ideal spot from which to take pictures, it was very definitely worth the effort. It was a very quick show - from the first blast to the end of the collapse was a total of 23 seconds.

The animated image above was produced from a series of separate still photographs taken with a 35mm camera from a location on the State Street bridge, about 1/4 mile east of the PennDOT building. To keep the size of the gif file more manageable, the action has been edited for time. The rate of fall of the building is unchanged (the pictures were taken at 2 frames per second), but the several second long "hang time" in the actual implosion (between the initial explosion and the start of the collapse of the building has been removed giving an even flow to the collapse of the building.

The windowless tower behind the PennDOT building is the storage area for the Pennsylvania State Archives. All of us genealogists breathed a major sigh of relief when the dust cleared and the Archives was still there...

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Copyright 1998 by McCrea Research, Inc.