Rescuers launched a door-to-door search on Thursday for victims after a massive explosion at a Texas fertiliser factory killed as many as 15 people and levelled much of this small Texas town.
With the country already on edge from Boston Marathon attacks, the factory blew up in a huge fireball late on Wednesday, destroying scores of nearby homes. Sergeant Patrick Swanton of the nearby Waco, Texas police department said that officials don’t yet know caused the explosion, but are treating the site as a crime scene.
The main investigation was being led by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Mr. Swanton said the death toll is “anywhere from five to 15 at this point” but expected to rise. Hospitals have treated more than 160 people with varying injuries.
He said law enforcement and rescue officials were conducting a massive search for survivors.
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the force of the explosion at a 2.1 magnitude.
The blast, which was felt as many as 50 miles away, destroyed an apartment complex and a nursing home and sent residents fleeing into emergency shelters.
Authorities said that the fire was under control. President Barack Obama, in a statement, offered the prayers of the nation to the people of West.
“A tight-knit community has been shaken, and good, hard-working people have lost their lives,” he said.
Mr. Obama offered aid through the Federal Emergency Management Administration, and promised “to make sure there are no unmet needs as search and rescue and response operations continue”.
Search and rescue efforts in West could be complicated by a storm system heading into the area, with forecasters predicting heavy rains, and winds — possibly heavy enough to spawn tornadoes.
To this, Mr. Swanton added “a small amount of looting” at unattended homes and businesses.
West, with a population of about 2,800 people, is home to a thriving Czech community dating back to the late 1800s, as immigrants settled in the American frontier.
In Prague, the Foreign Ministry said its ambassador to Washington, Petr Gandalovic, was travelling to West to study the possibility of providing aid.The Federal Aviation Administration declared a no-fly zone over the area around West, over fears another blast could bring down small aircraft. — AFP