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Blast turns West, Texas into warzone

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The remains of a fertilizer plant after an explosion at the plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas early Thursday.Photo: Reuters
The remains of a fertilizer plant after an explosion at the plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas early Thursday.Photo: Reuters

Rescue workers searched rubble that witnesses compared to a warzone early Thursday for survivors of a fertilizer plant explosion in a small Texas town that killed 15 people and injured more than 160 others.

The blast left the factory a smoldering ruin and leveled buildings for blocks in every direction.

The explosion in downtown West, about 130 km south of Dallas, shook the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and could be heard dozens of miles away.

It sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers, shrapnel and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.

Evacuations still on

“They are still getting injured folks out and they are evacuating people from their homes,” Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said early Thursday morning. He added later, “At some point this will turn into a recovery operation, but at this point, we are still in search and rescue.”

Swanton said authorities believe that between five and 15 people were killed in the blast, but stressed that is an early estimate as search and rescue operations remain under way. There is no indication the blast was anything other than an industrial accident, he said.

Among those believe to be dead — A group of volunteer fire fighters and a single law enforcement officer who responded to a fire call at the West Fertilizer Co. about an hour before the blast. They remained unaccounted for early Thursday morning.

Houses damaged

The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. levelled a four-block area around the plant that a member of the city council, Al Vanek, said was “totally decimated.” The toll 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.

Although authorities said it will be some time before they know the full extent of the loss of life, they put the number of those injured at more than 160 early Thursday. West Mayor Tommy Muska told reporters that his city of about 2,800 residents needs “your prayers.”

Due to the plant’s chemical stockpile, “they realized the seriousness of what they had,” Swanton added.


  • Explosion at fertilizer plant had the impact of a small earthquake

  • It sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers, shrapnel and debris down on residents.

  • A group of volunteer fire fighters and a law enforcement officer among those feared dead



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