WORLD

Dozens feared dead in fertilizer plant blast in Texas

The blast shook houses 50 miles away and measured as a 2.1-magnitude seismic event.

A massive blast at a fertilizer plant Wednesday night killed an estimated five to 15 people, wounded more than 160, and damaged 50 to 60 homes in a 5-block area, officials in West, Texas said Thursday, CNN reports. The casualty count could spike to 60 or 70, said Dr. George Smith, the city’s emergency management system director. “We have two EMS personnel that are dead for sure, and there may be three firefighters that are dead,” Smith said. “There are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow,” Mayor Tommy Muska warned late Wednesday.

The explosion rocked the West Fertilizer Co. at about 7:50 p.m. (8:50 p.m. ET). It’s being treated as a crime scene until investigators determine whether it was an accident. “Nothing at this point indicates we have had criminal activity, but we are not ruling that out,” said Sgt. William Patrick Swanton of the nearby Waco Police Department. Swanton estimated the death toll as high as 15. Patients were rushed to several hospitals. Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center reported five patients in intensive care – two in critical condition, three in serious condition. At least 28 patients will be admitted, said hospital chief Glenn Robinson. About half the community of 2,800 was evacuated, Muska said. The White House said it is monitoring the situation through FEMA, which is in touch with state and local authorities.

‘Like a nuclear bomb’

The blast shook houses 50 miles away and measured as a 2.1-magnitude seismic event, according to the United States Geological Survey. “It was like a nuclear bomb went off,” Muska said. “Big old mushroom cloud.” Firefighters painstakingly combed damaged homes, many which had been reduced to rubble. “(It’s) massive — just like Iraq. Just like the Murrah (Federal) Building in Oklahoma City,” said D.L. Wilson of the Texas public safety department. The blast stripped a nearby apartment complex, with 50 units, of its walls and windows. “It was just a skeleton standing up,” Wilson said. A nursing home, with 133 residents, was quickly evacuated. A middle school also is located near the plant. A storm system heading into the area could worsen the situation. “Winds will be gusting up to 35 miles per hour through the afternoon,” said CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Delgado. “This can move the direction of the fire” – a big concern for firefighters working to contain the blaze, she said. Lightening and hail could damage those efforts as well – and endanger people in the area who’ve been left homeless. Overnight lows will be just above freezing, Delgado said. Those without homes will need shelter. West is about 75 miles south of Dallas and 120 miles north of Austin. The town’s chamber of commerce touts it as “the Czech point of central Texas.” Czech immigrants arrived in the town in the 1880s, and the community still maintains strong ties to their central European roots, with businesses named “Little Czech Bakery” and “The Czech Inn.” The blast sent a massive fireball into the sky. Flames leaped over the roof of a structure and a large plume of smoke rose high into the air.“The windows came in on me, the roof came in on me, the ceiling came,” said George Smith, the city EMS director.

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