Casualties continue to mount in wake of fertilizer plant explosion

Ammonia damage remains looming threat

WRITTEN BY: Ted Ballantine
The town of West, Texas lies 18 miles North of Waco
Image Source: jczart via Flickr
The town of West, Texas lies 18 miles North of Waco

A fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday night in a small town 18 miles North of Waco, Texas, causing an estimated 179 injured and up to 15 fatalities and leveling homes as far as five blocks away.

The blast occurred around 7:50 p.m. CST in the town of West, Texas, which has a population of about 2,800. The source of the explosion is believed to be a tank holding fertilizer, according to CNN.

As of Thursday morning, officials were citing a “rough” death toll of between 5 and 15, although officials fear it could rise higher, according to ABC. Three to four firefighters are currently missing. 

The blast caused a 2.1 magnitude earthquake which was felt as far as 30 miles away, according to ABC. 

The damage to the community has been severe. Sergeant William Patrick Swanson, spokesman for the Waco police department, said homes as far as five blocks away from the plant had been destroyed. Sixty homes have been damaged in total, according to Swanson, and the town has been evacuated.

"What we are hearing is that there is one fertilizer tank that is still intact at the plant, and there are evacuations in place to make sure everyone gets away from the area safely in case of another explosion," said Ben Stratmann, a spokesman for Texas State Sen. Brian Birdwell.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry released a statement Wednesday night addressing the explosion.

“We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident. 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.”

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC’s Chief Medical and Health Editor, said the biggest threat going forward is ammonia, released in the explosion, hanging in the air.

“What you see with high level ammonia exposure is damage to your eyes, to your throat, to your nose, to your esophagus when you swallow,” Besser said on ABC radio. “A blast that’s going in one direction, if you get a change in the wind, it can come to another neighborhood and be affected.”

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