A giant explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas has killed between five and 15 people and injured over 160, prompting a widespread evacuation of the small town. The blast was felt and heard for 45 miles, and the force of it reportedly leveled dozens of homes and businesses, a nursing home, an apartment complex, and a nearby middle school. From DallasNews.com:
"The fertilizer plant down here exploded, said Jason Shelton, a clerk at the Czech Best Western Hotel in West. "It was a small fire and then water got sprayed on the ammonia nitrate and it exploded just like the Oklahoma City bomb.
"I live about a thousand feet from it and it blew my screen door off and my back windows," Shelton said. "There's houses leveled that were right next to it. We've got people injured and possibly dead."
The Waco Tribune spoke to one witness who said everything within a four block area of the plant was destroyed. These AP photos show the extent of the devastation in the town itself:
Bill Bohannan, who was visiting his parents at their house in West, near the plant, witnessed the explosion and said it was a devastating blast.
"I said, ‘This thing is going to blow' ... and I told my mom and dad to get in the car," Bohannan said. "I was standing next to my car with my fiancee, waiting for my parents to come out and (the plant) exploded. It knocked us into the car... Every house within about four blocks is blown apart."
According to KWTX, among those injured are several firefighters who had been at the scene at the time of the explosion to investigate a separate incident. KWTX is also reporting that several children were injured.
UPDATE 11:15 PM EST: According to the Waco Tribune, the entire town of West, Texas is being evacuated due to concerns about a second explosion at the plant.
UPDATE 11:28 PM EST: A rescuer told KWTX that at least five people died in the blast.
UPDATE 11:34 PM EST: ABC is now reporting that 200 people were injured, 40 critically. 75-100 homes or businesses were also reportedly destroyed.
UPDATE 11:42 PM EST: There have been multiple reports of fatalities, though it should be noted that none of these numbers have been confirmed. West EMS Director Dr. George Smith told KWTX that as many as 60 to 70 people died in the explosion. KHOU 11 is reporting 70 deaths, including five firefighters and one police officer. CBS 11 is also reporting that 60 people were killed. CNN is citing a source who says there are two confirmed fatalities.
And here's reported video of the explosion. The blast occurs at the 30 second mark.
UPDATE 12:21 AM EST: West's mayor told CNN that the explosion leveled 60-70 homes, a middle school, a nursing home, and an apartment building. The Associated Press is reporting the blast could heard from 45 miles away.
UPDATE 12:50 AM EST: West's Mayor Tommy Muska told the Waco Tribune that six or seven firefighters were in the plant at the time of the explosion and are unaccounted for.
UPDATE 1:06 AM EST: D.L. Wilson from the Texas Department of Public Safety spoke at a press conference. "There are a tremendous amount of injuries, and we do have confirmed fatalities," he said. He couldn't confirm any specific numbers.
UPDATE 7:51 AM EST: The death toll now stands at five to 15, and the number of injured over 160. Three to five firefighters are still missing, and there may still be people trapped inside a nursing home that had collapsed. West is littered with debris, and fire is still reportedly burning inside the plant, though the chemical tanks are thought to no longer pose a threat. "I've never seen anything like this," McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara told the Chicago Tribune. "It looks like a war zone with all the debris."
UPDATE 10:16 AM EST: A spokesperson for the Waco police, Sgt. William Patrick Swanton, said that they are currently missing three or four firefighters. One firefighter who was previously missing has not been hospitalized with "pretty serious injuries." The "rough number" of fatalities remains between 5 and 15. Footage of the explosion, from another angle is posted below and at Jalopnik.
UPDATE 11:49 AM EST: Here's video of the scene just minutes after the explosion. You can see the destroyed apartment building, at least one home on fire, and several people being treated for injuries.
[Image via Instagram]