A fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday evening in West, about 20 miles north of Waco, reportedly killing several people and injuring many more.
While national and local newspapers and news stations are reporting conflicting numbers of those killed and injured by the explosion, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported Thursday that an estimated five to 15 people were killed by the blast and more than 160 were injured.
The West Fertilizer Co. plant caught on fire at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, and emergency responders quickly showed up to extinguish it. About 20 minutes later, the entire plant blew up, sending up a pillar of smoke and fire, registering a 2.1-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale and destroying buildings and homes nearby, including a nursing home, apartment complex and middle school. The massive explosion could be seen and felt from Dallas, more than 80 miles away.
Gov. Rick Perry made a disaster declaration for the surrounding county, McLennan, and said about 70 homes were damaged by the exploding debris. The small town of about 2,800 has been evacuated.
Sean Marmolejo, junior family studies major from China Spring, began to worry for his family as soon as he heard about explosion. His grandmother lives six blocks from the plant, just outside the major blast radius, and some of his cousins live in the town, too.
“We are lucky to say that they made it out with just a few cuts and scratches,” Marmolejo said.
Those relatives are now staying with family and friends after the evacuation.
Hailey Thompson, senior Ad/PR major from Allen, has several family members who live in or are from West. Her great uncle, Donald Adair, works at the plant and lives nearby. Thompson learned of the explosion at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in a text from her mother.
“She said his plant blew up and there was no word from him yet,” Thompson said. “[Thursday] morning we heard that none of my family got hurt but their home was damaged.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosions and state fire marshal are investigating the cause of the fire and explosion, which could take six months.
The plant was investigated in the past for ammonia fumes and a fire there earlier this year forced the nearby school to evacuate, according to the Tribune-Herald.