Many feared dead in US fertilizer plant blast
US: A Texas fertilizer factory exploded in a huge fireball
Wednesday, flattening nearby homes and perhaps killing as many as
several dozen people, with one official likening the blast to a “nuclear
bomb.” Fears were mounting in the small town of West, outside Waco, that
a second fertilizer tank could erupt in flames, stoking anxiety in a
nation already on edge after the nerve-jangling Boston marathon
bombings, which left three dead.
An apartment complex and a nursing home were destroyed, local
residents flooded into emergency shelters, and at least 100 patients
were hospitalized following the blast, which US seismologists said had a
magnitude of 2.1.
“It’s like a nuclear bomb went off,” West Mayor Tommy Muska, who is
also a volunteer firefighter, told CNN.
There were conflicting reports about the death toll in the chaotic
aftermath of the explosion in the southern US state, which witnesses
said sent a huge fireball into the air.
A toll of up to 60-70 dead was initially reported by KWTX television,
citing the director of West emergency services, George Smith.
Keith Hopkins, an administrator with Providence hospital in Waco,
told AFP that emergency personnel in West had also given him the figure
of 60 to 70 fatalities.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, D.L. Wilson,
told reporters he could not “confirm or deny” the figure, saying: “We
have confirmed fatalities. The number is not current yet. It could go up
by the minute.”
House-by-house searches were being conducted to find any additional
victims, Wilson said.
The United States was already on edge in the wake of Monday’s deadly
twin bombings in Boston, and a scare in Washington over mail apparently
laced with the poison ricin sent to President Barack Obama and a US
The huge blast also came just before the 20th anniversary on Friday
of a deadly confrontation in Waco between federal authorities and
heavily armed members of a religious group, the Branch Davidians.
The explosion at the West Fertilizer plant, sparked by an enormous
blaze, occurred just before 8:00 pm (0100 GMT), Waco Assistant Fire
Chief Don Yeager told AFP by phone. The cause was not immediately known
but Yeager said it was an anhydrous ammonia explosion. Officials
expressed fears that toxic fumes could settle over the town. Power and
gas has been cut to some areas of the town as a precaution, Waco police
sergeant W. Patrick Swanton told CNN.
Mark Felton, executive director of the Waco-based Heart of Texas Red
Cross, told AFP that people were “flowing into the shelters” set up for
evacuees and those whose homes were destroyed, without providing a
“There are hundreds of emergency response vehicles lined up,” Felton
Witnesses said they were stunned by the sheer force of the blast. “It
knocked me down, it knocked me back. It was like the whole road just
picked up,” resident Cheryl Marich, whose home was destroyed and whose
husband was fighting the blaze, told CNN. Jessica Turner, a geophysicist
at the US Geological Survey, told AFP experts “were able to see the
ground motion that the explosion created,” putting the magnitude of the
shockwave at 2.1.