Massive explosion at West, Texas fertilizer plant destroys buildings, leaves hundreds injured

'Unknown number' of people killed

WEST, Texas - ABC News is reporting at least 200 people injured, including 40 critically, and an unknown number of people killed in West, TX after an explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday. The network is also reporting 75 to 100 structures were completely destroyed.

The blast at West Fertilizer in the town of West, a community about 20 miles north of Waco, happened shortly before 8 p.m. local time and could be heard as far away as Waxahachie, 45 miles to the north.

A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety says an unknown number of people were killed in the blast. D.L. Wilson says it will be some time before authorities know the full extent of the loss of life and damage caused by the explosion.

A member of the West city council, Al Vanek, said there is a four-block area around the explosion "that is totally decimated."

West Mayor Tommy Muska, who is also a volunteer firefighter, said the town's department went to the plant to fight a fire about 6:30 p.m., and the blast that followed knocked off his fire helmet and blew out the doors and windows of his home nearby

"We need your prayers. We've got a lot of people who are hurt, and there's a lot of people, I'm sure, who aren't gonna be here tomorrow," Muska said. "We're gonna search for everybody. We're gonna make sure everybody's accounted for. That's the most important thing right now."

He said main fire was under control as of 11 p.m., but residents were urged to remain indoors because of the threat of new explosions or leaks of ammonia from the plant's ruins.

Among the damaged buildings was what appeared to be a housing complex with a collapsed roof, a nearby middle school and 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.

Erick Perez, 21, of West, was playing basketball at a nearby school when the fire started. He and his friends thought nothing of it at first, but about a half hour later, the smoke changed color. The blast threw him, his nephew and others to the ground, and showered the area with hot embers, shrapnel and debris.

"The explosion was like nothing I've ever seen before," Perez said. "This town is hurt really bad."

Affiliate helicopter video showed a triage area set up in a high school football field, the twinkling lights on a massive number of emergency vehicles and large areas of fire.

ABC affiliate WFAA in Dallas reports the triage area was later moved for fear it was too close to the still-burning plant.

They also reported at least 10 structures were set ablaze after the explosion, including a school next door to the fertilizer plant.

"We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident," Gov. Rick 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."

Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster says her group is working with emergency management officials in the town of West to find a safe shelter for residents displaced from their homes. She says teams from Austin to Dallas and elsewhere are being sent to the community north of Waco.

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 that when she got there, two boys came running toward her screaming that 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."

She drove 10 blocks and called her husband and asked him to come get her. When they got to their home about 2 miles south of town, her husband told her what he'd seen: a huge fireball that rose like "a mushroom cloud."

Department of Public Safety troopers were using their squad cars to transport those injured by the blast and fire at the plant in West, a community north of Waco, Gayle Scarbrough, a spokeswoman for the department's Waco office, told television station KWTX. She said six helicopters were also en route to help out.

Glenn A. Robinson, the chief executive of Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, told CNN that his hospital had received 66 injured people for treatment, including 38 who were seriously hurt. He said the injuries included blast injuries, orthopedic injuries, large wounds and a lot of lacerations and cuts. The hospital has set up a hotline for families of the victims to get information, he said.

A West Fire Department dispatcher said any casualties would be transported to hospitals in Waco, which is about 90 miles north of Austin.

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