An enormous plume of smoke rose over West, Texas, Wednesday night at 7:50 p.m. CT (8:50 EST) after West Fertilizer Co. (a fertilizer plant) exploded. Effects of the blast could be felt for miles in each area – some claim as far north as Waxahachie (45 miles from West). According to Fox News, firefighters got a call to put out the fire at the plant, and less than an hour later they were greeted with a massive explosion. The explosion was created by the fire coming in contact with a large ammonia tank, creating devastating, bomb-like effects. In fact, some citizens of West have compared the explosion to the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bomb – which used some of the same materials found in last night’s plant explosion.
However, even with similarities in raw materials, local officials do not believe criminal activity was at work in the blast. “Nothing at this point indicates we have had criminal activity, but we are not ruling that out,” reported police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton to CNN. The investigation will be ongoing, but preliminarily, the explosion seems to have been caused from some kind of malfunction at the plant and its large stockpile of various chemicals. According to the Dallas Morning News, CBS reports, the plant had recently told the EPA that “it posed no risk of fire or explosion.” Sadly, if officials are correct and no foul play has been at work, this prediction proved ill grounded.
Although the plant was located near the edge of town, it was still close by an apartment complex, a middle school, and a nursing home. According to CBS News, buildings for several blocks in every direction of the plant were leveled due to the explosion. West Rest Haven Nursing Home, close enough to catch shards of glass ricocheted by the explosion, worked to evacuate its residents as quickly as possible. None of the injuries sustained at the nursing seemed to be life threatening, reports the Waco Tribune, but the Hillcrest emergency room was packed with those injured by the blast. As of 2:05 a.m., no patients admitted to the hospital had died from injuries. Those unable to be admitted to Hillcrest were taken to Providence Health Center in Waco.
Sgt. Swanton confirmed early on that somewhere between 5 and 15 people were killed at the site of the explosion, and over 160 have been injured to some extent. According to Dr. George Smith (West’s EMS Director) 6 firefighters and 2 EMS workers are among those confirmed dead.
Although citizens were initially told to stay indoors because of the threat of ammonia leaks, Waco police are now saying that air quality should not be a concern for those still remaining in the area. As of 8:10am, the Waco Tribune reported that most of the surrounding neighborhoods have already been largely evacuated.
The explosion, death, and damage will take a toll on West, a small farming community of 2,800 people. Many homes have been completely destroyed, and the current death toll is only an early estimate. ABC reports that Tommy Mouska, Mayor of West, said in a public statement, “We need your prayers … this is probably the most devastating thing that’s happened to this community.” Mouska himself is a volunteer firefighter, and was one of the first to respond to the report of fire at the plant.
Relief efforts for the people of West will likely be organizing very soon. There is already a Facebook page entitled "West, Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Info, Relief and Recovery," which is posting information about blood donation, clean-up supplies, food, water, toiletries, blankets, and more. The page is also posting up-to-date information about specific relief efforts and resource centers assembling on behalf of the West explosion.
Publication date: April 18, 2013