A devastating explosion at a Fertilizer Plant 19 miles north of Waco, Texas killed 35 people and injured more than 160.
“It was like a nuclear bomb went off,” said Mayor of West, Texas,Tommy Muska. Muska added the fire and blast happened just before 8 p.m. Wednesday. Among the victims were four emergency responders and five volunteer firefighters who were battling a blaze at the plant when the massive explosion followed. The captain of Dallas Fire-Rescue, Kenny Harris, who was off-duty but rushed to the scene to help, was also killed.
Texas Department of Public Safety State Trooper D.L. Wilson described the initial fertilizer plant blast as “massive — just like Iraq, just like the Murray Building in Oklahoma City. The same kind of hydrous [ammonia] exploded, so you can imagine what kind of damage we’re looking at.”
The fiery blast destroyed dozens of homes and business establishments in and around the plant. Among the damaged buildings were a local middle school, an apartment complex with 50 units, and the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, from which first set of responders after the blast evacuated 133 patients.
Masses of emergency vehicles and rescue units accumulated at the area and fires were still blazing in the skeletons of the plant and in several surrounding buildings hours after the blast. About half the town was evacuated and victims were transported to different hospitals.
Waco Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center’s chief executive Glenn A. Robinson said his hospital had listed 66 injured people, including 38 those who were listed in serious condition. He added most of the injuries included huge wounds, orthopedic injuries, and a lot of cuts and lacerations. Other hospitals have not given details yet.
What it Felt Like
West City Councilwoman Cheryl Marak said “It was like being in a tornado. Stuff was flying everywhere. It blew out my windshield.”
“It was like the whole earth shook.”
21-year-old Erick Perez said “The explosion was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. This town is hurt really bad.”
“All the ceilings are out,” local resident Keith Williams, said. “The windows are out. The brick’s knocked off the house. My big garage out back is half blowed in.”
“We didn’t know exactly what it was,” Brad Smith said. “The forecast said a line of thunderstorms was going to come through. My wife and I looked up and wondered, ‘Did it get here six hours early?’ ”
Tonya Harris of Groesbeck said in an email, “My husband and l were cleaning up the kitchen after supper and heard what we thought was someone running into our house. It shook our windows and doors. We immediately ran outside looking for the worst.”
The Undetermined Cause
The cause of the fire remains unknown and it is being preserved as a crime scene, officials said.
An officer from U.S. Intelligence said that there is no indication so far that the explosion is connected to terrorism.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott expressed that it’s too early to claim whether any criminal charges should be filed in connection to the deadly blast.
State authorities, together with Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are leading the investigation.
The Search for Survivors
The heavy rains early Thursday helped firefighters to subdue most of the blazes in the area.
Muska said main fire was under control as of 11 p.m., but residents were advised to remain indoors because of the remaining hazards surrounding the small town such as new explosions or leaks of ammonia from the plant’s ruins.
The search for survivors and missing people are still on-going.
“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” Muska said.