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BBC, CNN, DALLAS MORNING NEWS, WACO TRIBUNE-HERALD, WASHINGTON POST (U.S.)

Worldcrunch

WEST - A massive explosion Wednesday night in this town near Waco, Texas has left more than 160 people wounded, as well as an unspecified death toll that could quickly mount as search and rescue efforts continue into Thursday morning.

A fire began in the industrial fertilizer plant at about 6 pm local time, then shortly before 8 pm the enormous blast was set off, registering 2.1 on the Richter scale, according to USGS. (See video below)

Firefighters were attempting to curb the blaze when the explosion took place and the Waco Tribune-Herald quotes Mayor Tommy Muska as saying that five or six of the fire fighters and rescue crew who first arrived on the scene were unaccounted for.

#BREAKING Two EMS workers, six firefighters, and a resident of nearby apartment among the dead in #westTX explosion.#WESTEXPLOSION#CNN

— NICK@CNNCNY(@CNNCNY) April 18, 2013

Specific reports of the number dead varied between five and 15, but some feared it could quickly rise. The Washington Post quotes Muska as saying that it was too early to offer a preliminary death toll, but warning solemnly: “There are a lot of people who aren’t going to be here tomorrow.”

According to the BBC, officials have said that no foul-play was suspected and ammonia may have caused the explosion. It has been reported that the company had 20 tons (54,000lbs) of anhydrous ammonia on the premises.

The Dallas Morning News reported that West Fertilizer had previously told the Environmental Protection Agency that it presented no risk of fire or explosion. The newspaper said it had seen documents in which the plant said it stored large amounts of anhydrous ammonia, but the worst scenario envisaged was a release of ammonia gas that would harm no-one. In 2006 a complaint was filed against the plant for a lingering smell of ammonia, says CNN.

Remains of the fertilizer plant in #West. Photo by Mike Stone/Reuters #WestExplosiontwitter.com/YourAnonNews/s…

— Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) April 18, 2013

Witnesses said that the huge blast shook the earth and rolled a huge fireball through the town, leaving a path of destruction comparable to the wake of a tornado. Texas Department of Safety spokesperson, D.L. Wilson told a news conference that the damage was similar to the 1995 bomb blast in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.

Everything around the plant has been blown apart or collapsed, says The Dallas Morning News, with a nearby apartment complex left entirely decimated and a nursing home evacuated. It has been reported that the blast was felt up to 65 kilometers (40 miles) away.

In a very grim coincidence, this explosion happened just a day after the anniversary of the worst industrial accident in American history, which also took place in Texas. The Texas City disaster on 16 April 1947 killed almost 600 people when a fire ignited a large quantity of ammonium nitrate on a moored ship, sparking a chain of explosions and fires.


Terrifying video of blast, explosion at 0:30

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