An investigation is continuing into what led to the explosions that rocked a fertilizer plant in West, TX, Wednesday night, leaving at least five people dead and as many as 160 injured.
Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said early Thursday morning the death toll range of five to 15 is only an estimate as search and rescue operations remain under way in downtown West.
Swanton said there is no indication the blast was anything other than an industrial accident, but the ATF will be investigating.
“The injuries that we are seeing are very serious,” said Glenn Robinson, chief executive of Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center.”There are a number of patients that will be going to surgery. … It’s a very, very unfortunate situation.”
Texas Trooper D.L. Wilson said he expected casualty numbers to grow as emergency workers go house to house in the area. Wilson confirmed at least 50 houses suffered damage and a 50-unit apartment building ended up destroyed.
Wilson said the damage was comparable to the destruction caused by the 1995 bomb blast that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Mayor Tommy Muska said the explosion sent up a ball of fire. Muska, who is also a firefighter in the small town, said there was heavy damage in a five or six block area. There is concern, he said, about chemical fumes in an area north of the plant, and he urged residents to stay indoors.
He said 133 people were in the West Rest Haven Nursing Home located near the fertilizer plant at time of explosion. Officials ended up evacuating the home after the fire started – and before the explosion – at the plant.
Wilson, the trooper, said half the town had been evacuated due to damage or the threat posed by fumes from the burning plant.
“When that northwind changes, we might have to evacuate the other side of town,” Wilson said.
Robinson said 10 or 12 of the injured were in critical condition. Two people were in surgery as he spoke and two more were awaiting surgery, he said.
He said an unknown number of people with minor injuries were in the process of getting treatment at a triage center set up by emergency medical personnel at a triage center set up at a nearby high school football field.
Two children transferred to a pediatric hospital in Temple, Texas, he said.
Dani Moore, dispatcher with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said there were multiple damages to structures and vehicles. She said she had no information on the cause of the blasts or fire.
“The fertilizer plant was on fire. Firefighters were on the scene. There was an explosion … followed by a second explosion,” she said.
Five or six volunteer firefighters were at the plant fire when the explosion happened and not all have been accounted for, Muska said.
Donald Adair, a fixture in the West community, owns Adair Grain and Adair Farms, which comprises crop production and cattle feed lots. He is 83 years old. According to Dun & Bradstreet, Adair founded the company in 1958. It has 8 employees.
The president of West Fertilizer is Ted Uptmore, whose family is prominent in West and operates a livestock auction business near the plant called West Auctions. A woman who answered the phone at the auction business Thursday morning said Uptmore and Adair survived the blast and were dealing with the situation.