EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - Otis Bryan is one of only a handful of survivors of the New London school explosion. Even though Bryan didn't talk about the tragedy for over half a century, he is now sharing his story.
It may never be known exactly how many people were killed in the New London school disaster of March 18, 1937.
"There were so many bodies, they couldn't count them all," said Otis Bryan, a survivor.
Bryan was an 11-year-old 5th grader, sitting in Mrs. Nelson's art class waiting for the bell to ring.
"It happened about 3:18 in the evening. A few more minutes, we would have been out of school," recalls Bryan.
The New London school was one of the richest in America because of a recent oil discovery in Rusk County. But that day, what had been considered a blessing, was to be a curse for the New London school.
A spark from a shop sander ignited a vast pool of natural gas collected beneath the school building. The huge blast leveled the structure and killed more than 300 people, mostly children.
Although the blast could be heard for miles, Bryan says he didn't hear anything.
"When it blew, I didn't hear nothing, just looked like you couldn't see," he said.
Bryan says everything just went black from the debris swirling in the air.
"But I knew where the front door was, knew where the hall was, and I knew where the steps was." he said. "I took off and that's how I got out of there. I run all the way home, about a mile or a little over."
At the time, Bryan didn't know what had happened. He just knew it was bad and he was scared.
Looking back at old photographs, it seems impossible that Bryan could have cleared the back steps of the school. He just knows he did and he never stopped running until he got home.
"I got a lot of glass in me, little concrete balls and stuff got in me," said Bryan.
As parents hunted for their children, often digging with their bare hands, the injured were taken to the new Mother Frances hospital in Tyler, which opened a day early because of the tragedy.
"They didn't know for a long time how many were killed," Bryan said.
At the age of 90, Otis Bryan has lived a long, full life, fighting for his country, raising a family and making a living in the oil and gas industry, which in his life has proved to be both a blessing and a curse.