Over 150 people have been injured following a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas. Police estimate that between five and 15 people were killed in the blast.
The explosion hit the fertilizer plant in the small town of West around 100 kilometers south of Dallas at 7:50 p.m. local time on Wednesday (0050 UTC Thursday), launching a fireball high into the air and shaking the area. Patrick Swanton, a police officer from nearby Waco, told reporters the blast occured about 50 minutes after initial responders had arrived on the scene of a fire at the plant and began evacuating people from nearby residences and business.
Police have placed the number of wounded at 160 and the number of killed between five and 15.
Texas Public Safety Department spokesman D.L. Wilson compared the blast to the one that destroyed the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. That was the result of a truck bomb that killed 168 people, but the comparison refers to the strength of the explosion due to the chemical reaction involved. There are no indications that the explosion in West was deliberately caused.
According to Wilson, 50 to 75 houses in the area have been damaged, and he described an apartment building nearby that contained 50 units as a "skeleton."
Officer Swanton from Waco said rescuers were going "home by home, business by business, block by block" to examine the damage and to look for survivors. Some structures were more damaged than others, and the threat of a gas leak was making it difficult to secure the area.
The plant is still smoldering, Wilson said, but fire crews are being kept away due to the risk of toxic fumes. A wide area around the plant has been evacuated for the same reason, and a pending shift in the wind may force more of the small town of around 2,700 to be evacuated.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said a retirement home near the plant had collapsed. Over a hundred people lived in the home, but it appears all were evacuated before the explosion.
In a statement Texas Governor Rick Perry said his office had "mobilized state resources to help local authorities" deal with the incident.
mz/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)