Town of West, Texas with 2,700 People — Fertilizer Plant Explosion Leveled And Burned Plant, Houses, Apartment, Nursing Home and School — 14 Dead and 200 Injured — April 17, 2013 — Videos
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A fiery explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant in a small town north of Waco injured nearly 200 people, destroyed dozens of homes and businesses and prompted widespread evacuations.
Area hospitals reported treating slightly more than 170 people injured by the blast at the plant in West, Texas, and said more patients were on the way.
The blast caused fatalities, but officials early this morning would not provide an estimate on how many.
“We have tremendous amount of injuries, probably over 100 injuries at this time,” said State Trooper D.L. Wilson of the Texas Department of Public Safety around 1 a.m. ET. “At this time, we do have confirmed fatalities.”
Besides the injuries, officials said homes in a radius of about five blocks around the plant were heavily damaged — perhaps 75 homes or more.
Fertilizer plant explosion: Press conference from Waco police
Explosions rocked a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Wednesday evening as firefighters were battling a fire, causing multiple injuries, authorities said.
Dani Moore, dispatcher with the Texas Department of Pubic Safety, said she did not know how many were injured or the extent of their injuries.
“The fertilizer plant was on fire. Firefighters were on the scene. There was an explosion … followed by a second explosion,” she said.
She said there were multiple damages to structures and vehicles. She said she had no information on the cause of the blasts or fire.
WFAA.com reported at least 10 structures were on fire, including a school which is next door to the plant. An emergency triage center was set up at a high school football field.
The TV station said on its website that a shock wave was felt in parts of North Texas.
The Waco Tribune reported injuries to several people including firefighters.
The fertilizer plant is about 20 miles north of Waco and just off Interstate 35.
KWTX.com reported one of the nearby buildings damaged was a nursing home, and state troopers transported some of the injured to hospitals in patrol cars.
It also said the explosion knocked out electrical power to part of the community.
Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, was receiving some of the injured. Answering the phone at the hospital, Karen Jackson said she could provide no information on the number of injured or the extent
Blood-stained survivor of Texas explosion describes blast
West, TX Fertilizer Plant Explosion 4/17/2013 (Pt. 1)
West, TX Fertilizer Plant Explosion 4/17/2013 (Pt. 2)
Fertilizer plant explosion: Press conference from Waco police
West, TX Explosion Scanner Audio
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Texas ,Waco Explosion ,14 Victims Dead !
A Texas Town Mourns the First Responders Who Paid With Their Lives
Three-tenths of a mile from this town’s own ground zero, barely more than 24 hours after an explosion at a fertilizer plant tore through people’s houses and hearts, dozens of firefighters and emergency responders stood at attention.
Their hands raised to their brows in salute, they faced one another in two lines in the parking lot of a school, forming two walls of blue as the body of a fellow firefighter was escorted between them in the night. A bagpiper blew “Amazing Grace” as the remains, draped in an American flag, were placed in a vehicle.
¶It was a ritual they performed over and over — once for every person discovered in the wreckage who had been affiliated with a fire department. The scale of the disaster could be measured by the length of the ceremony; the firefighters and responders stood in the cold for about two hours, forming an honor guard 12 times for 12 bodies.
¶“We’re family,” said Joe Ondrasek, 46, a fire official from Brazos County who stood in salute that night and had traveled here to represent the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas. “It’s like losing your family. It’s like six members of your family got killed in a car wreck. That’s what it is, at that level.”
¶Three days after the West Chemical and Fertilizer Company plant erupted in an explosion that destroyed part of this town north of Waco, the search of dozens of buildings around the plant was complete on Saturday, but the magnitude of the blast’s toll had barely started to settle in. Officials said at least 14 people were killed in the explosion, which occurred shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday after a fire broke out at the plant for reasons that are still unclear and that remain under investigation by local, state and federal authorities.
¶Steve Vanek, the town’s mayor pro tem, said the state fire marshal’s office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had completed their investigation in parts of the area, but he did not elaborate.
¶A majority of the dead were firefighters from five fire departments and one ambulance service who had rushed to the scene to battle the blaze and started to evacuate people when the plant exploded. Ten firefighters in all were killed, the worst disaster for Texas firefighters in more than 60 years.
¶On April 16, 1947, fires and explosions aboard ships docked in Texas City killed hundreds of people — including 26 Texas City firefighters — in the worst industrial accident in American history, according to the Texas State Historical Association. The blast in West happened the day after the 66th anniversary of the Texas City disaster.
¶After the explosion in West, it was not the Texas City disaster that many people here talked about as they tried to comprehend the scale of the loss, but another, more recent one. What Sept. 11, 2001, means to firefighters in New York City is a measure of what April 17, 2013, albeit on a smaller scale, means to firefighters in central Texas. The ceremonies at the rubble in West, the stories of the people who hurried toward the flames as others hurried away, the stunned disbelief and the raw emotion that have settled over volunteer fire stations for miles — all of it has evoked to many the imagery of Sept. 11.
¶Late Friday afternoon, members of the West Volunteer Fire Department attended a service at a redbrick Roman Catholic church. They sat together near the front pews wearing matching red shirts. And after the service, they gathered next to one of their fire trucks, hugging and talking. They ranged in age from their 20s to their late 50s. They were the Texas equivalent of the macho image of New York firefighters — they wore cowboy boots and jeans and spoke with a slight drawl. One member walked out of the church in tears, his left arm in a black sling, black cowboy hat in hand. Another firefighter was on crutches, and another in a wheelchair.
¶As they prepared to depart, they climbed into the cab of Engine 1 with great care, helping one another inside. On a window of the door of Engine 1 was a bumper sticker: “9.11.01 Heroes.”
The department lost five of its 28 members, officials said. Several members were injured and taken to hospitals, including the chief, George Nors Sr., 67, who was released on Friday. The acting chief is his son, George Nors Jr., 34. Two men killed in the explosion — the 11th and 12th bodies given an honor-guard salute Thursday night — will be recognized as honorary West firefighters for their efforts to fight the blaze. The honor guard ceremony was coordinated by the nonprofit Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force.
The department had five engines and trucks; now, it has two. On Friday night, trucks and firefighters from Waxahachie and other towns were in the fire station, covering the day-to-day duties so that members of the West department could recuperate and grieve among themselves and their loved ones.
“They lost one-fifth of their organization,” Mr. Ondrasek said. “Many of the officers within the organization either died or are in the hospital. It all brings home how dangerous the job is that you don’t get paid to do. You’re serving your community because this is what you want to do and feel like you need to do. And you can pay with your life.”
Mr. Ondrasek sat on the step at the back of a fire truck in the station. A fire chief in a Brazos County volunteer department and the secretary of the state firefighters’ group, he had come to West to assist the department with any of its needs.
Among the 10 firefighters who died was Kenny Harris, 52, a captain with Dallas Fire-Rescue. He lived in West and had been off duty when he learned of the fire at the plant and responded to the scene, officials said. Two others who died were Cyrus Reed and Jerry Chapman, both members of the Abbott Volunteer Fire Department, a town seven miles north of West, according to an Abbott town official.
By Saturday afternoon, normalcy had yet to return to West, a town of 2,700 that is a kind of Czech-American outpost in the region and home to Czech bakeries, restaurants and a Knights of Columbus Hall that hosts Czech polka bands.
The explosion destroyed water lines, leaving much of the town without water. Three days after the explosion, service had yet to be restored to many homes and businesses.
Town officials planned to open a part of the area near the blast site to residents on Saturday, though they said a curfew enforced by the authorities would be in place nightly starting at 7.
In such a close-knit community, the connections between the dead, the wounded and the first responders was intensely intimate. The town’s mayor, Tommy Muska, is also a member of the Fire Department. One of the plant’s employees who died, Cody Dragoo, 50, was also a West firefighter. Another of the town’s firefighters killed at the plant, Morris Bridges, 41, lived about four houses away. The blast damaged his house and sent his family rushing for cover. His son, Brent Bridges, 18, had been standing outside the home, and he had no idea that the blast that blew out every window of the house had also killed his father.
“My back was towards it,” he said. “I heard a loud bang, and I just saw a piece of metal hit our yard. It was on fire almost. I ran for my little brother, grabbed him and took off. He died trying to prevent that explosion.”
Fertilizers Meet Fire, With Disastrous Consequences
While it is still not clear what caused the explosion at a fertilizer plant that destroyed or damaged much of West, Tex., on Wednesday, the disaster is a reminder that for all the good that fertilizers do in increasing crop yields, they can also prove lethal under certain conditions.
The plant had large amounts of two commercial fertilizers, anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate. Both chemicals have been linked to explosions in the past.
¶Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless, corrosive gas that is stored as a liquid under pressure; farmers inject it into the soil. “People mostly think of it as a toxic chemical that can cause breathing problems,” said Sam Mannan, a professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University. “But it’s also a flammable and explosive material.”
¶The gas must mix with air in relatively high proportions to ignite, so it is less dangerous than natural gas or gasoline under ordinary conditions. But Dr. Mannan suggested one way an anhydrous ammonia explosion might occur: If during a fire an ammonia tank were to be breached, the gas would mix with the air until it reached the proper concentration, at which point it would be ignited by the fire. The catastrophe at the West plant began with a fire.
¶Ammonium nitrate, which is usually sold in granular form, can be mixed with fuel oil to become a powerful explosive that is used often in industry and occasionally by terrorists. But Dr. Mannan said that even by itself the chemical can explode under the right conditions — if it is heated in a confined space during a fire, for example.
’15’ feared dead after explosion at Texas fertiliser plant
Up to 15 people are feared dead after a huge blast likened to a nuclear explosion ripped through a fertiliser plant near Waco, Texas.
D L Wilson of the local Department of Public Safety said: “We have a tremendous amount of injuries, likely over 100. We do have confirmed fatalities but we do not know how many. It was massive just like Iraq.”
Mr Wilson added: “We do have fatalities. The number is not current. It could go up by the minute.”
He said at least 50 to 75 homes were damaged and an apartment complex with 50 units was left a “skeleton.” Some 133 people had also been evacuated from a nearby nursing home.
Mr Wilson compared the aftermath of the explosion to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Tommy Muska, mayor of the town of West, said: “It was like a nuclear bomb went off, a big old mushroom cloud.”
The bang was heard 65 miles away in Dallas when it erupted at 8pm (1am GMT) and some mistook it for an earthquake.
According to a helicopter reporter from local television station WFAA, an area of about three blocks in West looked to have been destroyed. A school was reportedly on fire.
Hillcrest Baptist Hospital in Waco, 20 miles away, said it had treated about 65 patients of whom 38 were seriously hurt.
The plant was on fire for some time before it exploded. Firefighters rushed to the scene 30 minutes before the explosion and some of them were reportedly unaccounted for. The cause of the explosion was unknown.
Resident Crystal Anthony in West told CNN: “We all hit the ground and I just tried to protect my daughter because there was debris flying.
“I was standing less than 20ft from the nursing home which was totaled. I feel blessed to be alive.”
Local Sheriff Parnell McNamara said: “It’s a lot of devastation. It looks like a war zone with all the debris.”
Motorist Debby Marak said: “It was like being in a tornado. Stuff was flying everywhere. It blew out my windshield. It was like the whole earth shook.”
Lydia Zimmerman, told KWTX that she was in her garden 13 miles from west and it “sounded like three bombs going off very close to us.”
In West, which has a population of 2,700, a staging area for ambulances was set up on the local high school’s football field.
The explosion happened two days before the 20th anniversary of a fire in nearby Waco that engulfed a compound inhabited by David Koresh and his followers in the Branch Davidian sect, ending a siege by federal agents. Some 82 members of the sect and four federal agents died at Waco.