Search squads were still picking through the smoking devastation of the Texas fertilizer plant on late Thursday, 24 hours after a massive explosion, but there was no official word on the death toll.

The mayor of the town of West, Tommy Musaka, told USA Today in an interview that at least 35 people were killed in the explosion. But Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst would not confirm the toll in an interview with CNN, saying the search was still in a “rescue” mode but could be in a “recovery” mode by Friday.

Officials said through the day that the death toll could reach 15.

Mr. Musaka said 10 first responders, who had rushed to put out a fire at the plant, had died - caught in the massive blast that sent shock waves in a radius of 80 kilometres and injured 160 people.

Mr.Musaka said the blast also claimed the lives of residents of nearby homes. Television footage showed an entire two-storey apartment complex charred and destroyed.

“The apartment complex looks like it was the site of a bombing, the kind you see in Baghdad,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said at an afternoon news briefing. “It’s utterly destroyed.”

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