A fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, north of Waco, has killed as many as 70 people and injured hundreds. However, no official numbers have been released.
Meanwhile, the residents of the town of 2,700 are being asked to evacuate due to ammonia fumes after the explosion of West Fertilizer. The plant is located at 1471 Jerry Mashek Drive, just off Interstate-35. School buses and ambulances are being used to evacuate residents from the area.
Firefighters had been called to the plant to battle a small fire around 7 p.m. Crews were working to bring the blaze under control when the explosion happened around 7:50 p.m. Officials have said firefighters are among the missing.
Emergency crews from central and north Texas have been called in to help respond to the injuries and destruction from the explosion. Into the early morning hours Thursday the plant was still smoldering and active ingredients were still inside. The situation is still too volatile to have firefighters try and battle any flames.
Trooper D.L. Wilson of the Texas Department of Public Safety estimates that as many as 75 homes were severely damaged and an apartment complex with 50 units was gutted by the blast. West EMS Director Dr. George Smith said, “We’ve got a lot of houses on one street especially there that look like a war zone. They’ve been collapsed, so there may be people inside those houses, either critically injured or deceased.“
Tommy Muska, West’s mayor, said at a news conference three hours after the explosion that buildings in a five-block radius from the plant were severely damaged by the explosion. Among them was the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, a location where first-responders evacuated 133 patients, some in wheelchairs. “We did get there and got that taken care of,” Muska said.
Trooper Wilson said said 133 patients from the nearby nursing home were evacuated. He could not comment on the extent of any patient injuries, but says all patients have been evacuated from the building.
Dr. Smith said he saw the initial fire and became concerned. “When I saw the fire I went to the nursing home, because I knew there were hazardous chemicals [in the plant], and I helped the nursing home personnel move them [residents] away from the area close to the explosion.” Then the doctor said there was chaos. “It exploded while I was in the nursing home. I had debris and glass windows all over me… had to get out of there myself,” he said. “Luckily we had got most of the residents on the other side. Hopefully I think that saved some lives.”
The hotline number (254) 202-1100 has been set up at Hillcrest Hospital for family and friends to check on loved ones.
Dr. Smith said some 66 people were taken to Hillcrest Hospital and several others to Providence. Smith said the patients being admitted ranged in age from babies to elderly.
Triage was initially set up at the local high school football field, however it was moved to a nearby softball field because of a strong odor in the area.
CBS 11′s Brian New reports there are dozens of ambulances lined up at the triage area.
Information was hard to come by in the hours after the blast, with even Governor Rick Perry saying state officials were waiting for details about the extent of the damage.
“We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident,” Perry said in a statement. “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.”
Aerial footage showed fires still smoldering in the ruins of the plant and in several surrounding buildings, and people being treated for injuries on a flood-lit local football field, which had been turned into a staging area for emergency responders.
A woman passing through West on Interstate-35 at the tie of the explosion told CBS 11 News she saw a fireball 100-feet wide shoot into the air.
USGS says the blast was the equivalent of a 2.1 magnitude earthquake.
West Fertilizer has been in business for decades, selling fertilizer to farmers between Hillsboro and Waco.
American Red Cross crews from across Texas were being sent to the site, the organization said. Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster said the group was working with emergency management officials in West to find a safe shelter for residents displaced from their homes. She said teams from Austin to Dallas and elsewhere are being sent to the community north of Waco.