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Wednesday
Apr172013

Texas Plant Explosion Injures Hundreds, Levels Homes, Businesses

WFAA-TV/ABC News(WEST, Texas) -- 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 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 Thursday 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.

Witnesses reported heavy fire or concussive damage to a nursing home, where more than 130 residents were evacuated, and also to a middle school and an apartment complex in the area.

"It's total chaos," West City Councilwoman Cheryl Marak said, according to ABC News Radio.  "There's ambulances and fire trucks and police cars from everywhere."

Just after 3 a.m. ET, hospitals near the blast site reported 179 people being treated.  At least 24 patients were in critical condition and 38 in serious condition.

Baptist Hillcrest Medical Center in Waco, Texas, had more than 100 of the patients and was expecting more, according to David Argueta, vice president of operations.

"They are coming in ambulances cars, vans, pretty much anything," the center's CEO, Brett Esrock, said earlier.

Patients from the blast also were confirmed at Providence Healthcare Network in Waco, Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and Scott and White Memorial in Temple, Texas.

Witnesses to the explosion described a massive force that burned buildings, knocked down people, blew out windows and left an apartment complex as "just a skeleton standing up."

The blast even registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Marak told ABC News that the explosion was so massive it killed her pet dog and destroyed her house approximately two-and-a-half blocks from the plant, as well as houses around it.

"With the explosions, the whole street lifted up," she told ABC News.  "It was like a massive bomb went off.  It demolished both my houses -- my mother's and mine."

"I think everything around us is pretty much just gone," she added, according to ABC News Radio.

Keith Williams, a local resident, said his house also was completely destroyed, according to ABC News Radio.

"All the ceilings are out," Williams said.  "The windows are out.  The brick's knocked off the house.  My big garage out back is half blowed in."

He also saw "people with all their houses tore up across the street from me, on each side of me."

The West Fertilizer Plant exploded around 7:50 p.m. local time, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

There were subsequent explosions around 10 p.m., ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV reported.  The cause of the explosions was unconfirmed, but a dispatcher was heard warning crews to move away from chemicals in unexploded tanks.

West Mayor Mayor Tommy Muska told WFAA that firefighters were responding to a fire at the plant before the blast, at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Officials told reporters Thursday morning that several of the firefighters who were fighting the fire at the time of the blast remained unaccounted for.

Wilson described the initial blast as "massive -- just like Iraq, just like the Murray Building in Oklahoma City.  The same kind of hydrous exploded, so you can imagine what kind of damage we're looking at."

"It was smoldering still and it still is active," he said in the early morning hours.  "You know other ingredients [are] at the facility, so we don't want that to explode again.  So right now we can't get firefighters in there.  We're worried about people right now, not property."

Nevertheless, officials said early Thursday that most fires were contained.

"We're gonna go back in and do another house-to-house search and see if anybody else, victims, are in the houses," Wilson said.  "That's going to be going on all night."

The town of West has a population of about 2,800.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio