Blast from fertilizer plant rocks Texas

Massive explosion in West, Texas likened to seismic event

West, Texas | April 18, 2013

"Itís overwhelming to us"

— George Smith,

Rescue workers are searching the rubble of a fertilizer plant on Thursday after massive explosion leveled homes and businesses in every direction. A fire at the plant, located in West, Texas sparked an explosion that caused a deafening bang and measured as a 2.1 magnitude seismic event according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Buildings shook even 50 miles away.

As many as 15 people may have been killed and 160 more injured. The blast occurred minutes after the fire began, so firefighters were already on the scene. Some may be among the dead, but the number is unclear, Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said.

Swanton said the facility would be treated as a crime scene when officers gain access. The cause of the explosions was unconfirmed. ATF (the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) is conducting the main investigation.

It’s overwhelming to us,” said George Smith, the town’s director of emergency services. “We have two EMS personnel that are dead for sure, and there may be three firefighters that are dead,” Smith said.

“It was like a nuclear bomb went off” said Mayor Tommy Muska.

Department of Public Safety Trooper D.L. Wilson said the fire was still smoldering at the facility. He said 50 to 75 houses were damaged and 133 people were evacuated from a nearby nursing home. Half of the town of West, population about 2,800 has been evacuated, and if the wind direction shifts, the other half may need to be evacuated.

The Texas National Guard has sent 21 troops from a civil support team to monitor air quality near the blast, The Pentagon said Thursday.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board was deploying a large investigation team to West. An ATF national response team that investigates all large fires and explosions was also expected, bringing fire investigators, certified explosives specialists, chemists, canines and forensic specialists. American Red Cross crews also headed to the scene to help evacuated residents.

The Chemical Safety Board has not investigated a fertilizer plant explosion before, but Managing Director Daniel Horowitz said "fertilizers have been involved in some of the most severe accidents of the past century."

The White House is monitoring the situation through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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