Several firefighters who responded to a fire at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas are missing following an enormous explosion last night that was so powerful it registered 2.1 on the Richter Scale, according to the US Geological Survey. Witnesses describe a chaotic scene with ammonia-soaked fumes, bloody bodies, burning cars, homes with windows blown out, and people screaming. Homes and businesses within a five block radius of the plant have been leveled and roughly half of the town’s small population of 2,800 have been evacuated.
Local officials told reporters at a press conference that they still don’t know exactly how many people have been killed or injured as a result of the blast. However, they estimate at least five to 15 fatalities and more than 100 injuries, though it is feared that once recovery efforts are underway those numbers will rise substantially. Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said at least three to five fire fighters are still missing.
“It’s a lot of devastation. I’ve never seen anything like this,” McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara told Reuters. “It looks like a war zone with all the debris.”
Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman D.L. Wilson said that a nearby nursing home collapsed after the explosion and people are believed to be trapped inside. There were 133 people inside the nursing home, he said, and those evacuated are being treated.
Although the fire is under control, it is still smoldering and officials are worried about fierce winds that are blowing the fumes north. As a precautionary measure, residents are being advised to stay indoors to avoid contact with toxic fumes. The entire area surrounding the plant is completely off limits. A football field triage has been evacuated and a new one set up at a baseball field in the south side of town, NBC News reports. There are concerns that a nearby plant could explode.