(WEST, Texas) — A fire and chemical explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant in a small town north of Waco, Texas, injured more than 170 people, destroyed dozens of homes and prompted widespread evacuations.
The blast Wednesday evening at the West Fertilizer Plant in West, Texas, caused fatalities, officials said, but early Thursday morning they would not estimate how many.
“We have tremendous amount of injuries, probably over 100 injuries at this time,” said State Trooper D.L. Wilson of the Texas Department of Public Safety at around 1 a.m. ET. “At this time, we do have confirmed fatalities.”
Officials were going door-to-door searching for survivors.
Emergency personnel who responded to a fire at the plant before the initial explosion were believed unaccounted for, according to West Mayor Tommy Muska and Sgt. William Patrick Swanton of the Waco Police Department.
In addition, officials were concerned about potentially dangerous ammonia fumes emanating from the plant, as well as forecast winds that might spread the chemical fumes in new directions early Thursday morning.
“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,” said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor.
Buildings in a radius of about five blocks around the plant were heavily damaged — perhaps 75 homes or more, officials said.
Witnesses reported heavy fire or concussive damage to a middle school, homes and an apartment complex near the plant, as well as a nursing home, where more than 130 residents were evacuated, according to Muska.
By 3:30 a.m. ET, hospitals near the blast site reported treating 179 people, with 10 more being triaged. At least 24 patients at the hospitals were in critical condition and 38 in serious condition.
Baptist Hillcrest Medical Center in Waco, Texas, had more than 100 of the patients and was assessing approximately 10 more in the triage area, according to David Argueta, vice president of operations.
Patients from the blast also were confirmed early Thursday at Providence Healthcare Network in Waco, Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and Scott and White Memorial in Temple, Texas.
Wilson described the initial blast as “massive — just like Iraq, just like the Murray Building in Oklahoma City. The same kind of hydrous [ammonia] exploded, so you can imagine what kind of damage we’re looking at.”
The blast burned buildings, knocked down people, blew out windows and, according to Wilson, left the apartment complex looking like “just a skeleton standing up.”
It even registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The fertilizer plant exploded around 7:50 p.m. local time Wednesday, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Emergency response audio told the story of the chaos among firefighters and others at the scene.
“We need every ambulance we can get this way,” said one snippet. “A bomb just went off. It’s pretty bad.”
“Firefighters down,” said another. “There has been an explosion.”
There were subsequent explosions around 10 p.m., ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV reported. The cause of the explosions was unconfirmed, but a dispatcher was heard warning crews to move away from chemicals in unexploded tanks.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
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