A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant rocked the town of West, north of Waco, causing multiple injuries and leaving people trapped and buildings on fire.
Firefighters were reported among those injured during the explosion, which occurred before 8 p.m. at West Fertilizer Inc., just off Interstate 35, about 80 miles south of Dallas.
Authorities were asking residents of the town to evacuate, and there were reports of dozens of people injured, including residents of a nearby nursing home.
A fire had broken out earlier at the fertilizer plant, and the explosion occurred while firefighters were trying to put it out.
“It was a small fire and then water got sprayed the ammonia nitrate, and it exploded just like the Oklahoma City bomb,” said Jason Shelton, a clerk at the Czech Best Western Hotel in West.
“I live about a thousand feet from it and it blew my screen door off and my back windows. There’s houses leveled that were right next to it. We've got people injured and possibly dead.”
Numerous buildings were reported to be on fire, including West Middle School and a nearby nursing home. A dispatcher calling for multiple ambulances said, “We do have a lot of injured here.”
Department of Public Safety troopers were taking some victims to hospitals in Waco, which is about 20 miles south of West.
Bill Bohannan, who told the Waco Tribune-Herald he witnessed the devastating blast of the explsion while visiting his parents.“Every house within about four blocks is blown apart,” he said.
West ISD trustee Crystal Anthony said she and her daughter were “knocked back” by the blast as they stood blocks away from the plant.
“A nearby nursing home is really bad; there’s an apartment complex and … [West Middle School] that caught fire,” she told the Tribune-Herald. “We’ve been moving patients out of the nursing home and taking them to the football field and gymnastics building.”
People as far away as 50 miles away reported feeling what seemed like an earthquake.
Andy Bartee of Dallas was driving home from Austin when he stopped at a convenience store about five miles from the explosion.
Suddenly the lights went out and the explosion rocked the building.
“You could feel it in your chest and ears,” he said. Ceiling tiles fell and pictures on the wall broke.
“It was pretty nuts,” he said. “It looked like a mushroom cloud. It looked like an atom bomb had been dropped,” Bartee said. “I’ve never seen or felt anything like that.”
Gov. Rick Perry released the following statement regarding the incident:
“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.”
West is widely known for its annual Westfest, which celebrates the city’s Czech heritage. It’s the home of several well-known bakeries, including the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery, that serve kolaches and other pastries.