A powerful explosion rocks the town of West, Texas, 19 miles north of Waco, on Wednesday evening.
Officials believe that between 5 and 15 people were killed in the blast. The explosion leveled homes, surrounding buildings, and injured at least 160 people.
Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton says the death toll is only an estimate at this point. Right now, search and rescue operations are underway in the downtown area.
Swanton says there is no indication the blast was anything other than an industrial accident.
At 11 p.m. Wednesday night, Mayor Tommy Muska said that most of the fires resulting from the explosion were contained. He added that 133 people at a nearby nursing home had to evacuate.
“It was like a nuclear bomb went off,” said one man who was looking for a lost relative on Willie Nelson Road. A large portion of the small town with a population of 2,800 was damaged and hundreds have been evacuated from the area.
A triage center that was set up at the West High School football field was evacuated because of its proximity to the burning plant. The processing center was moved to the town's community center.
An information hotline has been set up for concerned friends and relatives at (254) 202-1100. The line was overwhelmed with calls; if you get a busy signal, keep trying.
“There was a huge shock wave,” said Mark Licknovsky who works at the Czech Stop, less than one mile away on Interstate 35. “That's when we knew something was serious.”
West Town Council member Cheryl Marak told WFAA the blast killed her pets and confirmed heavy damage at the middle school. Every house within four blocks of the facility was heavily damaged, according to initial reports.
“I can see heavy smoke here; there are emergency crews everywhere,” said WFAA Todd Unger as he arrived in the devastated town. “We're looking at a home and it is a total loss. There are flames shooting up 10-15 feet.”
Governor Rick Perry issued this statement on Wednesday night: “We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident. We have also mobilized state resources to help local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the
people of West, and the first responders on the scene.”
A shock wave from the explosion may have been felt in parts of North Texas and mistaken for an earthquake.