A large fertilizer plant explosion rocked a small Texas town Wednesday night, causing fatalities, injuring “hundreds” of people and leaving dozens of homes destroyed. Many people, including first responders, were unaccounted for.
A dispatcher with the West, Texas Fire Department said the explosion happened on Wednesday night at a fertiliser plant in the community north of Waco.
Gayle Scarbrough, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety in Waco, told television station KWTX that DPS troopers have been transporting the injured to hospitals in their patrol cars.
KWTX reported that the explosion at West Fertiliser was reported at around 7:50 pm in a frantic call from the scene.
Firefighters were battling a blaze at the time of the blast. Multiple officials confirmed that fatalities in the explosion, but wouldn’t give any early numbers. Some sources however put the number of deaths at 70.
“We know fire was there, we know law enforcement was there assisting with traffic, and I believe there were EMS …,” Sgt. William Patrick Swanton of the Waco, Texas, Police Department said. “There may be firefighters that are unaccounted for and potentially a law enforcement officer as well.”
Swanton said early Thursday that rescuers were searching “house to house, businesses to business, trying to get people out of the area,” adding: “They are still pulling people out of their homes.”
It is the “most devastating thing that’s happened to this community,” West Mayor Tommy Muska said at a news conference.
“We need your prayers,” Muska said. “There’s a lot of people that are hurt. And there’s a lot of people that I’m sure are not going to be here tomorrow…It’s a cross across our hearts.”
Muska, who is a firefighter in addition to being mayor, was on his way toward the inferno at the time of the blast but was still a few blocks away.
“It blew my hat off, and then I heard it. I felt it before I heard it,” Muska said. “It was a very powerful explosion.”
Swanton described a scene of devastation around the fertilizer plant: “I saw homes that were burning, homes that had significant devastation, windows blown out, bricks torn off, siding torn off. There were homes that were leveled.”
Baptist Medical Center in Waco said 66 patients have been treated at its trauma center. Those with lesser injuries had been discharged, while others had gone into surgery. The hospital said 38 patients are considered “seriously injured” and nine burn victims had been rushed to a Dallas burn center.
Providence Hospital in Waco said it had received 65 patients, many with abrasions and broken bones and some in respiratory distress, apparently because of chemical inhalation.
Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman D.L. Wilson said that a nursing home had collapsed from the explosion and that people were believed trapped inside. Wilson said 133 people were inside the nursing home.
A further concern was the smoke and the presence of anhydrous ammonia. Swanton said the winds were expected to shift to the north about 8 a.m. ET, “so you’re looking at a whole other area that might be affected as those winds shift.” The Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area, home to 6.7 million people, likes less than 70 miles north of the plant.