Texas Fertilizer Plant Aftermath 15 Dead, 160 Injured, 5 Firemen Missing
Heartbreaking daylight images have revealed the extent of the devastation inflicted on the small community of West, Texas when a fertilizer plant exploded on Wednesday night, killing as many as 15 people – including three or four volunteer firefighters – and injuring hundreds more.
The blast, which was felt 50 miles away and registered as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake.
Destroying as many as 75 homes and buildings, leveled an apartment complex, forced a nursing home to evacuate its residents and blanketed the area in a cloud of toxic fumes.
The missing volunteer firefighters were attending a blaze at the plant at 7.50pm local time when it suddenly exploded into a fireball – thought to be caused by dangerous anhydrous ammonia igniting in the heat of the fire.
Some witnesses likened the explosion and damage to that of an atomic bomb.
As many as 179 people have been treated for injuries in hospitals, but Sergeant W. Patrick Swanton from Waco’s police department warned that he expects the total number of deaths and injuries to rise as emergency teams conduct a proper search.
Today, as the dust settles on the small community of 2,800 people, photographs reveal decimated homes, debris-strewn roads and a massive charred crater where the West Fertilizer Co. once stood.
Search and rescue teams are now searching the buildings for victims.
The explosion shook the ground in the town located about 20 miles north of Waco, and around 1,300 residents have now been evacuated.
The tragedy raised fears of another U.S. terror attack just days after the Boston bombs that killed three people, and comes ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Waco siege, but Mr Swanton said the blast was more likely to be a terrible industrial accident.
‘They are still getting injured folks out and they are evacuating people from their homes,’ Mr Swanton said in a press conference this morning.
‘At this point, we don’t know a number that have been killed. … I think we will see those fatalities increase as we get toward the morning.’
Swanton said a minimum of 400 emergency responders arrived at the scene on Wednesday night. Officials said they were treating it as a crime scene.
‘We are not indicating that it is a crime, but we don’t know,’ Swanton said. ‘What that means to us is that until we know that it is an industrial accident, we will work it as a crime scene.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is conducting the main investigation.’
He said there is not believed to be any hazard from smoke or air particles, and firefighters believe they have the blaze in the plant under control.
ABC News reported that 179 people were hospitalized with at least 24 in critical condition, nine of whom are burn victims sent to Parkland Hospital in Dallas.At least 38 people are in serious condition in total, ABC reported.
Victims are likely to have suffered ‘blast injuries’ including punctured lungs, eardrums, irritated eyes and possibly wounds caused by flying shrapnel and debris.
A number of people are also suffering from ‘respiratory distress due to chemical inhalation’, head injuries and bone fractures.
Glenn Robinson, CEO of Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, where as many as 101 blast victims have been taken, called it a ‘very, very unfortunate situation’. Patients have lacerations, orthopedic and burn injuries, he said.
‘The injuries that we are seeing are very serious,’ he said. ‘There are a number of patients that will be going to surgery.’
He added that 10 or 12 people taken to the hospital are in critical condition, with five in intensive care. Several are undergoing surgery and more than 38 are seriously injured, but there have been no fatalities.
In addition, Providence Healthcare Network in Waco has treated 65 patients, 12 of whom have have broken bones, burns and head injuries. One patient is in critical condition, ABC News reported.
West Mayor Tommy Muska said: ‘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. We’re gonna search for everybody.
We’re gonna make sure everybody’s accounted for. That’s the most important thing right now.’
One resident, Dr. George Smith, explained that the devastation was ‘overwhelming’ for the small town, which has just three ambulances.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara commented: ‘It looks like a war zone with all the debris.’
Dr. Smith, said that the explosion was like an ‘atomic bomb.’
‘Just fire everywhere,’ Sammy Chavez, who witnessed the explosion, told NBC. ‘Bodies on the ground, bloody bodies, people in panic. Firemen, fire trucks, police cars filled the town.’
The toll of devastation 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.
Mayor Muska said rescuers are now carrying out house-by-house search and rescue in the area around the plants.
Texas Department of Public Safety D.L. Wilson said the damage was comparable to the destruction caused by the 1995 bomb blast that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Rescue efforts have been hampered due to hazardous chemicals in the air following the explosion. First responders were seen wearing respirators to protect themselves.