Huge Blast at Texas Fertilizer Plant Injures Over 100

Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald, via AP
Published: April 18, 2013

WEST, Tex. — A huge explosion tore through a fertilizer plant near West, a town in central Texas on Wednesday night, causing over 100 injuries and an unknown number of deaths, laying waste to swathes of buildings and potentially sending toxic fumes into the air, authorities said.

Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald, via Associated Press

A bystander looked on as emergency workers tried to put out a house fire in West on Wednesday night.

The explosion near West also affected a nursing home

The explosion, in the quiet town of fewer than 3,000, ripped through the night at around 8 p.m. local time, said Representative Bill Flores, a Republican who represents the district.

It began with a smaller fire at the plant, West Fertilizer, just off Interstate 35, about 20 miles north of Waco, Mr. Flores said, which was attended by local volunteer firefighters. “The fire spread and hit some of these tanks that contain chemicals to treat the fertilizer,” Mr. Flores said, “and there was an explosion which caused wide damage.”
Videos posted online showed a large fire, visible from hundreds of yards away, followed by a fireball that blasted high into the sky and, according to television footage, set fires burning into the night.

“Right now we have a tremendous amount of injuries, probably over 100 injuries at this time,” D.L. Wilson, a state trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety, told reporters at a press conference early Thursday morning. “We do have confirmed fatalities,” he said, but declined to say how many because a search of the area was being conducted.

He compared the destruction to Iraq war scenes and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, an act of terrorism using explosives made from fertilizer. “I can tell you I was there, I walked through the blast area, I searched some houses earlier tonight. It was massive, just like Iraq, just like the Murrah building in Oklahoma City.”

As many as 75 houses were damaged and buildings were reduced to skeletons, he said. A nursing home, with 133 residents was among those hit. The fate of those within it was, like so much on the scene, not immediately clear.

“We’re a little bit in the fog of war right now,” Mr. Flores said.

Mr. Wilson, and other local officials, told reporters that half of the town had been evacuated because of fears of toxic fumes being spread by heavy winds. First responders continued to search “house-by-house,” he said.

An enormous triage area had been set up, and television footage showed dozens, perhaps more than 100, emergency vehicles attending to huddled casualties under blankets and on stretchers.

At the edge of that triage area near a baseball field shortly before midnight, dozens of emergency and law enforcement personnel – state troopers, firefighters, constables, sheriff’s deputies – awaited for the injured to be brought in. Here in the dark of night miles from the plant, no one was certain what had happened, or how many were injured.

A nurse at the McLennan County jail stood by his car, dressed in scrubs, stethoscope around his neck. “Right now they’re in the process of doing search and rescue,” said the correctional nurse, Glen Stephens. “I saw something on the news, and got a couple of phone calls. The director of nursing at our facility sent out a text to all the nurses, and there’s quite a few of us here.”

A few steps away, a man in a pick-up truck pulled up to a state trooper directing traffic. “Volunteers?” he asked the state trooper, and he was directed down the road.

The Red Cross in the Dallas and Fort Worth region said in a statement posted online that it had crews on the way to help. Red Cross workers were looking for a safe place to shelter residents who had been displaced from their homes.

“We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement late Wednesday. “We have also mobilized state resources to help local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West and the first responders on the scene.”

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