At Least 15 Killed, More Than 160 Injured in Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion - News - @ JEMS.com


At Least 15 Killed, More Than 160 Injured in Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Injured and evacuees still being removed from West community

 

 
 
 

JOHN L. MONE and MICHAEL BRICK, Associated Press | | Wednesday, April 17, 2013

GALLERIES

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Images: Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Small town devastated in tragic blast.
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VIDEOS

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10:00AM Update from West, Texas

300 to 400 emergency responders from DFW and across Texas are in West.
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Raw Video: Fertilizer Plant Explosion Near Waco, Texas

Explosion was caught on video by witness with cell phone camera.
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Waco Police Sergeant Confirms Fatalities in Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Early details on the effects of the massive fertilizer plant fire.
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WEST, Texas (AP) — Rescue workers searched rubble early Thursday for survivors of a fertilizer plant explosion in a small Texas town that killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160 others. The blast left the factory a smoldering ruin and leveled homes and businesses for blocks in every direction.

Initial radio traffic

KWTX.com: As many as 60-70 killed; 100 injured

The explosion in downtown West, a small farming community about 20 miles north of Waco, shook the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and could be heard dozens of miles away. It sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.

"They are still getting injured folks out and they are evacuating people from their homes," Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said early Thursday morning. He added later, "At some point this will turn into a recovery operation, but at this point, we are still in search and rescue."

Swanton said authorities believe that between five and 15 people were killed in the blast, but stressed that is an early estimate. There is no indication the blast was anything other than an industrial accident, he said.

Among those believed to be dead: Three to five volunteer firefighters and a single law enforcement officer who responded to a fire call at the West Fertilizer Co. shortly before the blast. They remained unaccounted for early Thursday morning.

The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. leveled a four-block area around the plant that a member of the city council, Al Vanek, said was "totally decimated." The toll included 50 to 75 houses, an apartment complex with about 50 units that one state police officer said was reduced to "a skeleton," a middle school and the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, from which first-responders evacuated 133 patients, some in wheelchairs.

Other witnesses compared the scene the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and authorities said the plant made materials similar to that used to fuel the bomb that tore apart that city's Murrah Federal Building.

Although authorities said it will be some time before they know how many lives were lost, they put the number of those injured at more than 160 early Thursday. West Mayor Tommy Muska told reporters that his city of about 2,800 residents needs "your prayers."

"We've got a lot of people who are hurt, and there's a lot of people, I'm sure, who aren't gonna be here tomorrow," Muska said. "We're gonna search for everybody. We're gonna make sure everybody's accounted for. That's the most important thing right now."

In the hours after the blast, many of the town's residents wandered the dark and windy streets searching for shelter. Among them was Julie Zahirniako, who said she and her son, Anthony, had been playing at a school playground near the fertilizer plant when the explosion hit. She was walking the track, he was kicking a football.

The explosion threw her son four feet in the air, breaking his ribs. She said she saw people running from the nursing home and the roof of the school lifted into the air.

"The fire was so high," she said. "It was just as loud as it could be. The ground and everything was shaking."

The town's volunteer firefighters had responded to a call at the plant at 7:29 p.m., Swanton said. Due to the plant's chemical stockpile, "they realized the seriousness of what they had," he said.

Muska was among the firefighters, and he and his colleagues were working to evacuate the area around the plant when the blast followed about 20 minutes later. Muska said it knocked off his fire helmet and blew out the doors and windows of his nearby home.

The main fire was under control as of 11 p.m., authorities said, but residents were urged to remain indoors because of the threat of new explosions or leaks of ammonia from the plant's ruins. Swanton said early Thursday authorities were not concerned about lingering smoke from the fire.

Dozens of emergency vehicles amassed at the scene in the hours after the blast, as fires continued to smolder in the ruins of the plant and in several surrounding buildings. Aerial footage showed injured people being treated on the flood-lit football field that had been turned into a staging area.

Vanek said first-responders treated victims at about half a dozen sites, and he saw several injured residents from the nursing home being treated at the community center. Swanton said the injured rescued so far had been taken to hospitals in Waco and a triage center at high school in nearby Abbott.

About 100 of the injured were treated at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, where five people were in intensive care. Another 65 were taken to Providence Health Center in Waco. Officials said the injuries included broken bones, bruises, lacerations, respiratory distress, and some head injuries and minor burns.

Erick Perez, 21, of West, was playing basketball at a nearby school when the fire started. He and his friends thought nothing of it at first, but about a half-hour later, the smoke changed color. The blast threw him, his nephew and others to the ground and showered the area with hot embers, shrapnel and debris.

"The explosion was like nothing I've ever seen before," Perez said. "This town is hurt really bad."

Information was hard to come by in the hours after the blast, and entry into the town was slow-going as the roads were jammed with emergency vehicles rushing in to help.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said it was deploying a large investigation team to West. American Red Cross crews from across Texas also headed to the scene to help evacuated residents.

There were no immediate details available from police on the number of people who work at the plant, which was cited by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2006 for failing to obtain or to qualify for a permit. The agency acted after receiving a complaint in June of that year of a strong ammonia smell.

In 2001, an explosion at a chemical and fertilizer plant killed 31 people and injured more than 2,000 in Toulouse, France. The blast occurred in a hangar containing 300 tons of ammonium nitrate, which can be used for both fertilizer and explosives. The explosion came 10 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., and raised fears at the time it was linked. A 2006 report blamed the blast on negligence.

___

Associated Press writers Schuyler Dixon and Terry Wallace in Dallas, and Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.



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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


10:00AM Update from West, Texas



Raw Video: Fertilizer Plant Explosion Near Waco, Texas



Waco Police Sergeant Confirms Fatalities in Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion



Raw Audio: Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion



Injured Texas Nursing Home Director Describes Massive Explosion



Explosion in West, Texas

Images: Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

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Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Baylor University student's hold a candle light vigil outside Waco Hall for the victim's of the West fertilizer plant explosion, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Jerry Larson)


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Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Baylor University student's hold a candle light vigil outside Waco Hall for the victim's of the West fertilizer plant explosion, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Jerry Larson)


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Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

A victim from the West fertilizer plant explosion is wheeled into Hillcrest Baptist Medical Hospital in Waco, Texas, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Jerry Larson)


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Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

An unidentified man injured by the West fertilizer plant explosion is treated by nurses from Hillcrest Baptist Medical Hospital in Waco, Texas, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Jerry Larson)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

A victim from the West fertilizer plant explosion is wheeled into Hillcrest Baptist Medical Hospital in Waco, Texas, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Jerry Larson)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

This video image provided by WFAA-TV shows injured people being treated on the flood-lit the high school football field turned into a staging area after the blast in West Texas Wednesday April 17, 2013. (AP Photo/WFAA-TV)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

A fire still burns in a apartment complex destroyed near a fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo made early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013. (AP Photo/LM Otero)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Smoke fills the air after a fertilizer plant explosion Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Rescue workers gather near a damaged apartment complex after a nearby fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction. (AP Photo/ Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

A person looks on as emergency workers fight a house fire after a nearby fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

In this Instagram photo provided by Andy Bartee, a plume of smoke rises from a fertilizer plant fire in West, Texas on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting high into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin and causing major damage to surrounding buildings. (AP Photo/Andy Bartee)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Rescue workers pass a damaged apartment complex after a nearby fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. (AP Photo/ Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

An emergency worker walks through damaged apartment building following a fertilizer plant explosion Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting high into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin and causing major damage to surrounding buildings. (AP Photo/ Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

An injured elderly person is assisted by two young males as a nursing home is evacuated after an explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

A person looks on as emergency workers fight a house fire after a near by fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. (AP Photo/ Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)


Gallery 1

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Emergency workers evacuate elderly from a damaged nursing home following an explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco caused numerous injuries and sent flames shooting high into the night sky on Wednesday. (AP Photo/ Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)



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