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West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion

A fertilizer plant in Texas exploded in the early evening on April 17. A number of first responders were reported missing, up to 15 people were reported killed and more than 160 were injured.

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 WEST, Texas — The crowd that had gathered — lighting candles, offering prayers, crying as they tightly embraced family and friends — had streamed from the dimly lighted sanctuary of Assumption Catholic Church, but Kelly Nelson lingered behind.

“The people who we lost, these are people I know, I see on a daily basis,” Nelson said. “Knowing that I’m never going to see these people on the Earth again is very difficult for me to handle.”

On Wednesday night, a blast at a fertilizer plant rocked this small east-central Texas town. A day later Nelson and hundreds of others gathered in the red brick Assumption church. Nelson wasn’t the only one to stay behind after the service concluded. A pair of young men sobbed as they knelt before the altar. Others stared blankly forward as they sat in the pews. In a time when residents of West sought hard-to-find clarity, they are relying on faith.

texas explosion before and after

Before and after images of West, Texas explosion. Image courtesy of Los Angeles Times

PHOTOS: Fertilizer plant explosion

“If this town didn’t have faith,” Nelson, 29, said, “it wouldn’t have anything.”

The people who know West well say it’s a little town known for many things: Its Czech heritage. Its kolaches, a Czech pastry that’s something of a delicacy in the region. Its ability to have a good time.

But what’s proving most important now is its faith.

“Their faith is so strong here, and it can only get greater,” said Father Ed Karasek, pastor of Assumption.


Karasek encouraged those attending the vigil to grieve and to allow those around them to do so. If that means being angry with God, so be it.

“It’s OK to be angry with God,” Karasek said after the service. “You’ve got to let it out, and he can take it. They lost their homes. They’re devastated. They lost loved ones. They lost family.”

Charlie Ferguson, 75, has lived in West his entire life, and he considers himself blessed because of the people.

West, he said, is a typically happy place, with hard-working people. They’re resilient, he said, and will weather this, he believes.

“They’re a strong people,” he said. “They have faith in God, I guess. Gives them strength. They’re pulling together.”

Don Cole, a Dallas-based pastor with Victim Relief Ministries, has traveled to disaster areas throughout the region to offer counsel. Beyond the trauma of what happened, Cole said, the experience stirs up difficult, existential questions that can be just as terrifying: Is there a God? Who created us? Why would God let this happen?

Turning to faith, as well as to their religious communities, serves as a comfort, he said. “Their faith is what pulls them through.”

In West, it’s a tight-knit community of  2,800 residents that has, in recent days, been drawn even closer together. Most residents know of someone who was killed, injured or displaced or  evacuated from home. As they try to take steps toward healing, Nelson said prayer will be crucial to that.

“You know everyone’s name, you know of everyone’s family,” she said. “It’s going to be very difficult moving forward, but we’re going to do it because of faith.”

–Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times

It was a wild week of news, from the Boston Marathon and Kaufam County to the ricin scare, the explosion in West, Texas Fertillizer and flood waters in Chicago.

(CNN) — The death toll has risen to 14 after an explosion at a Texas fertilizer factory, Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes told reporters on Friday. Search and rescue efforts in the area are continuing, he said.

Authorities are trying to determine the whereabouts of 60 people who remain unaccounted for, making an exact casualty count difficult to establish, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said earlier Friday.

Reyes said 200 people have been injured and 50 homes have been destroyed.

“This is still being treated as a crime scene,” Reyes said.

west texas explosion

Many questions remain about Wednesday’s fire and explosion, which leveled buildings, ripped up walls and threw people on the ground blocks away. About half the town was evacuated, including a nursing home with 133 residents.

It’s still unclear what caused the blast, which was so intense its ground motion registered as an earthquake, or whether it was the result of criminal activity.

Officials are treading cautiously on providing specific numbers on victims, but fire officials confirmed some deaths among their crew.

Five West firefighters, one Dallas firefighter and four emergency responders were killed, the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas said in a statement Thursday.

Despite the flurry of questions, one thing is certain. The effect on the small town of West — population 2,800 — is massive.

So far 150 buildings have been searched and cleared, with 25 more homes left to search and clear, CNN’s Martin Savidge reported. The structures are weakened, and need to be shored up before they can be searched.

Three firetrucks and one EMS truck were also destroyed.

The blast stunned residents and left behind a trail of charred devastation in the small town.

“There’s no way I would have ever dreamed that this would have happened,” paramedic Bryce Reed told CNN’s “AC360°.”

“I mean, it’s profound and it’s dire, and it hurts like hell,” he said. “But, you know, the main thing we wanted to convey is that … please keep the prayers coming. Please keep the thoughts coming.”

When he responded to the scene, it left him speechless, Reed said.

“I can tell you there’s absolutely no words that I possess that can convey adequately what I saw,” he said. “It went from my hometown and my reality and my existence to a war zone in an instant, and I haven’t even had time to process that yet.

He lost some friends, all volunteer emergency workers, just like him.

“People who didn’t have to go to that blast, went to that blast,” he said. “People who could have stayed at home, they didn’t have to go. … They were all volunteers.”

Authorities are still scouring the area for survivors — and answers.

“We still are holding out some hope,” Mayor Tommy Muska said. He said the number of casualties may rise.

The area around the site remains “very volatile” because of the presence of ammonium nitrate, according to Matt Cawthon, chief deputy sheriff of McLennan County. Ammonium nitrate, a solid fertilizer composed of ammonia and nitrogen, is also a component of explosives widely used in mining.

The explosion tore through the roof of West Fertilizer Co., charring much of the structure and sending massive flames into the air. A deafening boom echoed for miles.

It registered as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake on the U.S. Geological Survey website.

Brad Smith felt his house shake. It’s 50 miles away from the plant.

“We didn’t know exactly what it was,” he said. “The forecast said a line of thunderstorms was going to come through. My wife and I looked up and wondered, ‘Did it get here six hours early?’ “

Local authorities are working with federal officials, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to determine the cause of the deadly explosion.

Though there are no indications of criminal activity, Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said, it has not been ruled out yet.

It’s unclear whether the plant had safety problems. But in 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency fined the company that ran the fertilizer plant $2,300 and told the owners to correct problems that included a failure to file a risk management program plan on time.

Seven years ago, the company had a complaint against it for a lingering smell of ammonia, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality website shows.

West is about 75 miles south of Dallas and about 20 miles north of Waco.

The blast came as the nation remained on edge after the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday that killed three and left about 180 injured.

It also coincided almost exactly with the 20th anniversary of a fire in Waco that ended a federal agents’ siege against members of the Branch Davidian sect. More than 80 sect members and some federal agents died.

That anniversary is Friday.

–Faith Karimi, CNN


WACO, Texas — A father who took the dramatic video of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, from his car, with his young daughter n the vehicle saying she can’t hear and pleading with him to drive away after the blast, spoke about the event Thursday.

The video – which went viral – was taken by Derrick Hurtt.

He and his 12-year-old daughter, Khloey, survived the blast. In the video, Khloey can be heard saying she couldn’t hear after the blast and pleading with her father to drive away.

Khloey said her ears were sore but she has her full hearing back.

Hurtt’s video has now been viewed almost 3 million times on YouTube.

Local News

Texas plant explosion: Dangers here?

SEATTLE — While investigators try to figure out what caused the explosion and fire at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, some are wondering if an explosion such as Texas’ could happen in Seattle.

The fertilizer industry is a growing, multi-billion dollar business with plants all around the country. In Washington state, there are more than 100 storage facilities regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency,  but only one, Agrium, in Kennewick, that manufactures fertilizer similar to the Texas plant.

In 2005, the EPA fined Agrium $25,000 dollars when a hazardous gas was released at the plant. The Department of Labor is currently inspecting the plant.

Even with its problems, a spokesman for the industry — based in Spokane — said fires or explosions like the one that occurred in Texas are extremely rare.

“This is highly unusual,” said Jim Fitzgerald of Far West Agribusiness Association. “I’ve never even heard of a fertilizer plant having a fire or even an explosion of this magnitude.”

Fitzgerald said the lone fertilizer plant shouldn’t pose a threat to workers or the community, even though fertilizer plants contained volatile material such oil and gas.

“It’s a compressed gas, so it’s like a natural gas,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s like propane and most people in town have a barbeque on the back deck and in that five gallon container is propane and how often do we hear of those exploding?”

The larger threat in our state may come from our six oil and gas refineries, Fitzgerald said. In 1998, six people were killed at a refinery explosion in Anacortes, Wash. Twelve years later, there was an explosion and fire at the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes that killed seven workers. The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries found more than 40 health and safety violations it said led to the deadly fire at the Tesoro Refinery.

 The mayor of West, Texas, said between 35 and 40 people are believed to be dead in a massive fertilizer plant explosion “because they are unaccounted for and still missing.”

“We are out there searching the rubble, looking in each and every house. We are trying to locate each and every citizen,” Mayor Tommy Muska said in a telephone interview with The Times.

Fertilizer plant explosion ripped walls off of nearby buildings in West, Texas. Here, an apparent apartment complex was ripped open.

Muska said he had arrived at that count because all the other residents and first-responders in the area have been identified. Among those who were missing and believed to be dead, he said, were as many as six firefighters and four emergency medical technicians.  The explosion occurred Wednesday night, damaging or destroying buildings within a half-mile radius.

State law enforcement officials declined to confirm the mayor’s statement.  “We cannot confirm the amount or number of fatalities,” said Jason Reyes, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, during a press briefing.  “I can confirm we do have fatalities.”

–Los Angeles Times staff

 (CNN) — Teams of first responders descended on the devastated town of West, Texas, early Thursday where a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant left scores of casualties and turned homes to rubble.

The number of dead remained unclear, with police saying it could be between five and 15. More than 160 people were injured and “three to four” firefighters were missing or unaccounted for, officials said.

Firefighters were battling the blaze that precipitated the explosion Wednesday night. And a storm system heading into the area brought helpful rain — but also heavy winds that might make it much tougher to contain the fire.

fertilizer plant fire

It’s unknown whether residents were trapped under remnants of destroyed buildings, authorities said early Thursday. Teams were combing through flattened areas, but nails and other debris created safety risks, said Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton. Also, the Department of Homeland Security said federal and state authorities were taking steps to secure the area by shutting down local rail freight service and nearby utilities and restricting flights over the area.

Cause unknown

“Nothing at this point indicates we have had criminal activity, but we are not ruling that out,” said Swanton. A U.S. intelligence official told CNN there is no indication so far that the blast is related to terrorism.

Most of the injured were hurt by the blast — not by inhaling fumes, officials said. Many people had lacerations and puncture wounds.

For the complete CNN story, go here.

WEST, Texas (CNN) — A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small Texas town of West Wednesday night left at least two people dead, injured more than 100, leveled several homes and prompted a widescale evacuation in the community of 2,600 people.

“It was a like a nuclear bomb went off,” Mayor Tommy Muska said. “Big old mushroom cloud. There are a lot of people that got hurt. There are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow.”

Fire officials fear that the number of casualties could rise as high as 60 to 70 dead, said Dr. George Smith, the emergency management system director of the city.

“That’s a really rough number, I’m getting that figure from firefighters, we don’t know yet,” he said.

“We have two EMS personnel that are dead for sure, and there may be three firefighters that are dead.”

Muska told that six or seven  firefighters were in the plant at the time of the explosion and unaccounted for.

The blast took place at the West Fertilizer Plant, about 18 miles north of Waco, about 8:50 p.m. ET.

It sent a massive fireball into the sky. Flames leaped over the roof of a structure and a plume of smoke rose high into the air.


Fertilizer plant explosion ripped walls off of nearby buildings in West, Texas. Here, an apparent apartment complex was ripped open.

“There are lots of houses that are leveled within a two-block radius,” Smith said. “A lot of other homes are damaged as well outside that radius.”

McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said the area looked like a war zone after the blast, which had a magnitude of 2.1, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah (federal) Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 produced a blast with 3.0-magnitude.

“The magnitude measures only the ground motion, not the air wave, so is substantially less than the true size of the event,” the USGS said on its website.

Texas Department of Public Safety trooper D.L. Wilson briefed media, saying there were over 100 injuries and there are confirmed fatalities. Wilson said he could not give a firm number of fatalities, however.

“It could go up by the minute,” Wilson said.

Wilson told reporters that 50 to 75 houses suffered damage, 133 people were evacuated from a neighboring nursing home, and said an apartment complex near the fertilizer plant with over 50 units was “like a skeleton.”

Half of the town of West has been evacuated, Wilson said, adding that if the wind shifts and blows from the north, the other half may need to be evacuated.

Emergency personnel will do a house-to-house search overnight, looking for others who may be injured, he said.

And the danger may not be over.

Residents are being evacuated because officials are worried that another tank at the facility might explode.

“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.

Shortly after the explosion, more than 60 patients streamed into Hillcrest Hospital in Waco, suffering from “blast injuries, orthopedic injuries (and) a lot of lacerations,” said hospital CEO Glenn Robinson.

While some of the injuries are minor, others are “quite serious,” he said.

At least six helicopters are going to fly out those who are injured, Robinson said. Others are being transported by ambulance, and some are getting to the hospital by car, he added.

Two other hospitals in the region were also assisting.

The West Fertilizer Plant is just north of Waco. A school and a nursing home are among the buildings near the plant, CNN affiliate KWTX reported.

Tommy Alford, who works in a convenience store about three miles from the plant, told CNN that several volunteer firefighters were at the store when they spotted smoke. Alford said the firefighters headed toward the scene and then between five and 10 minutes later, he heard a massive explosion.

“It was massive; it was intense,” Alford said.

Chrystal Anthony, a nearby resident, said she saw the flames engulf the nursing home and an apartment complex.

“It was an apartment complex that was devastated, the nursing home. The fire was close to a residential area,” Anthony said.

As of 10 p.m., two hours after the explosion, fires were still burning in the area, and strong south winds blowing at 30 mph were fanning those flames.

A photo taken after the explosion — which happened around 7:50 p.m. (5:50 p.m. PT) — showed a huge plume of smoke rising high into the air.


Explosion rips through fertilizer plant in city of West, Texas, on Wednesday (Photo: FOX 44 / viewer submitted)

KWTX reported that West firefighters were dispatched to the plant earlier in the evening after an earlier fire rekindled.

Scanner traffic indicated that some residents of both the nursing home and apartment building were severely injured.