An explosion Wednesday evening at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, a rural town north of Waco, has killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, according to early estimates, the Associated Press reports. The massive explosion sent a pillar of smoke and flame hundreds of feet into the air; the force of the blast registered as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale.
(PHOTOS: Massive Plant Explosion Rocks Texas City)
Emergency responders had been trying to extinguish a fire at the West Fertilizer Co. plant that broke out at 7:30 pm when the blast occurred at 8:00 pm, destroying a four-to-six-block area that included a nursing home, a middle school and damaging up to 75 homes and totally gutting an apartment complex, State Trooper D.L. Wilson told CBS-DFW.
The whole neighborhood “looks like a war zone with all the debris,” McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara told Reuters.
Nearby homeowner Kevin Smith was literally blown away by the blast, he said this morning on CBS This Morning:
“The house exploded, just a bright flash and a roar. I thought it was lightning striking the house, and I felt what i thought was electrical sensation over me, and I felt myself flying through the air about 10 feet and took a second or two to realize that the roof had caved in on me.”
Derrick Hurtt filmed the explosion from his car 300 yards away and the footage has gone viral.
Authorities have been frantically searching for people still trapped in the debris, including three to five volunteer firefighters.
“They have not gotten to the point of no return where they don’t think that there’s anybody still alive,” Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton told the Associated Press. Nevertheless, “part of that community is gone,” told CBS-DFW.
While many people in the area have volunteered to take in victims and their families or bring them food, there have been reports of looting, according to Swanton.
While the cause of the explosion is still unknown, CBS-DFW did report that the fertilizer plant received a citation in 2006 for failing to get the right permit. And in June of that same year, The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated the plant after someone filed a complaint about a “very bad” ammonia smell.
Pope Francis asked his faithful to keep the people of West, Texas, in their prayers:
Please join me in praying for the victims of the explosion in Texas and their families.—
Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 18, 2013