WEST, Texas -- A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smouldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction.
The explosion at West Fertilizer in West, a community about 30 kilometres north of Waco, happened shortly before 8 p.m. and could be heard as far away as Waxahachie, 72 kilometres to the north.
Tommy Muska, West's mayor, said at a news conference three hours after the explosion he didn't yet know how many people had been injured or killed. He said buildings in a five-block radius from the plant were severely damaged by the explosion.
Among the damaged buildings was the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, from which first responders evacuated 133 patients, some in wheelchairs. "We did get there and got that taken care of," Muska said.
Information was hard to come by in the hours after the blast, with even Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying state officials were waiting for details about the extent of the damage.
"We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident," Perry said in a statement. "We have also mobilized state resources to help local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West, and the first responders on the scene."
Aerial footage showed fires still smouldering in the ruins of the plant and in several surrounding buildings, and people being treated for injuries on a flood-lit local football field, which had been turned into a staging area for emergency responders.
Debby Marak told The Associated Press that when she finished teaching her religion class Wednesday night, she noticed a lot of smoke in the area across town near the plant, which is near a nursing home. She said she drove over to see what was happening, and when she got there, two boys came running toward her screaming the authorities ordered everyone out because the plant was going to explode.
She said she drove about a block when the blast happened.
"It was like being in a tornado," Marak, 58, said by phone. "Stuff was flying everywhere. It blew out my windshield."
"It was like the whole earth shook."
-- The Associated Press