A fire at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas (about 80 miles southeast of Dallas) sparked a deadly explosion that killed an estimated five to 15 people and injured more than 160 on Wednesday April 17. According to reports, the explosion occurred at approximately 8:00 PM CDT (01:00 UTC). Prior to the blast, a fire was reported at the plant. A reported 50 to 75 homes were destroyed, as well as a 50-unit apartment complex. A nursing home and middle school were also reported to have severe damage. While officials have not determined a cause for the explosion, they do not believe that foul play was involved.
Rescue workers searched for survivors early Thursday morning, and up to 15 people are feared dead. Some officials believe the number of fatalities could be much higher. Three to four volunteer firefighters are among those missing. Local area hospitals were flooded with more than 160 patients injured by the blast. Injuries included broken bones, lacerations, respiratory distress and head injuries. Five people were reported to be in intensive care. Authorities are monitoring air quality in the area for toxic fumes, but do not believe the public is in danger at the present time.
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The explosion was caused by a fire of unknown origin at the plant, according to media reports. Firefighters reported to the plant to extinguish the blaze, but minutes later, a monstrous explosion sent a massive fireball into the air. Homes more than 50 miles away from the plant shook from the explosion, with U.S. seismologists measuring the ground motion as a 2.1-magnitude seismic event. Reports indicate up to 75 homes were damaged, with some homes reported to be completely levelled. A 50-unit apartment complex was described as being stripped of its walls and windows, and a nursing home and middle school were reported to be badly damaged.
Concern that a second tank may explode has caused authorities to shut off local rail freight service, nearby utilities and declare a no-fly zone over the area.
While the explosion is being treated as a crime scene, authorities stress that no indications point to a cause other than accidental fire. It will take time for authorities to properly assess the full scope and severity of damage.
Sources: Associated Press, Reuters, BBC News, CNN, Agence France Presse
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