MANNY FERNANDEZ & RAVI SOMAIYA
The search continued on Thursday morning for survivors of a huge explosion that tore through a fertilizer plant in a small central Texas town Wednesday night,killing as many as 15 and injuring more than 160 others,laying waste to buildings and potentially sending toxic fumes into the air,the authorities said.
Homes and businesses were levelled in the quiet town of West,and there was widespread destruction in the downtown area,Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton of Waco Police Department said Thursday.
Five to 15 people were killed and over 160 were being treated at area hospitals,Sergeant Swanton said,while also emphasizing that those early estimates could change. As many as five firefighters are still missing,he said.
There is no evidence indicating criminal activity,Sergeant Swanton said,but were not ruling that out.
It began with a smaller fire at the plant,West Fertilizer,just off Interstate 35,about 20 miles north of Waco that was attended by local volunteer firefighters,said US Representative Bill Flores. The fire spread and hit some of these tanks that contain chemicals to treat the fertilizer, 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 set fires burning into the night.
Right now we have a tremendous amount of injuries, D L Wilson,a state trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety,said early Thursday morning.
He compared destruction to Iraq war scenes and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing,an act of terrorism using explosives made from fertilizer. It was massive,just like Iraq.
The mayor of West,Tommy Muska,said in brief televised remarks that 50 to 60 houses in a five-block area were heavily damaged,and that search-and-rescue teams worked through the night. 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.
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.