WACO (April 17, 2013)—Emergency crews from throughout Central Texas responded Wednesday night after a major explosion at a burning fertilizer plant in West north of Waco.
West firefighters were dispatched to the plant earlier in the evening after a fire at the plant rekindled.
The explosion was reported at around 7:50 p.m. in a frantic radio call from the scene of the fire at West Fertilizer at 1471 Jerry Mashek Dr. just off Interstate 35.
Numerous injuries were reported and multiple ambulances were requested.
About 60 people had been taken to Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center by shortly before 10 p.m.
There were reports at around 9:45 p.m. that a second tank containing anhydrous ammonia was on fire.
An approaching storm was expected to produce gusty winds overnight that should dissipate any fumes, but that will fan the flames of any fires still burning.
Several buildings were reported destroyed in the blast and a nearby nursing home was damaged.
There were reports that people were trapped in the nursing home and in an apartment building.
Scanner traffic indicated that some residents of both the nursing home and apartment building were severely injured.
Children are among the victims, according to reports from the scene.
Two children were reported to be trapped on the second floor of the damaged apartment complex.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said the area looked like a war zone.
He could not say whether there were any deaths and did not know how many people were injured.
Department of Public Safety troopers transported some victims to hospitals in patrol cars, said Gayle Scarbrough at the DPS Communications Center in Waco.
A triage area was established at the intersection of Haven and North Reagan Streets, but it was later moved to Marable Street and Meadow Drive because of the potentially toxic smoke from the fire.
As many as a dozen helicopters were sent to the area and were landing at West High School stadium and at least two-dozen ambulances were waiting there to transport victims to hospitals.
A number of buildings were reported to be burning, some in residential areas and evacuations were underway.
Authorities were going door-to-door checking residences in the area.
West Middle School was one of the buildings reported to be on fire.
Injured victims were being taken to area hospitals.
An officer was dispatched to provide crowd control at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, which issued a call to all staffers to report.
The explosion knocked out power to a large area of the community.
Oncor’s online outage site showed more than a thousand customers without power.
Interstate 35 remained open, but a number of emergency vehicles were on the highway headed to West and from West to hospitals.
The Texas Department of Transportation advised motorists to avoid the area.
“I-35 is likely to become clogged as the emergency vehicles come and go, and as the inevitable rubbernecking begins in passing traffic,” spokeswoman Jodi Whatley said.
“Please try to use alternate routes and leave I-35 as open as possible as the ambulances try to get the injured to hospitals and then come back to help more victims. Because of the force of the explosion, many businesses, homes, and possibly a nursing home and school are destroyed or damaged. Power and phone service is out in much of the town,” she said.
Fire crews from virtually every community in the area headed to the scene.
Waco firefighters and the department’s hazmat team were among the first to respond.
The Killeen Fire Department was sending its hazmat team and 10 firefighters to assist.
A woman who was passing through West on Interstate 35 at the time of the explosion said she and her boyfriend saw a fireball 100-feet wide shoot into the air.
A man who lives 15 miles northwest of Hillsboro felt the concussion from the explosion.
Army Sgt. Rocky J. Havens said in an e-mail he felt the shock in Italy, north of Hillsboro.
Tonya Harris of Groesbeck said in an e-mail she heard the explosion.
“My husband and l were cleaning up the kitchen after supper, and heard what we thought was someone running into our house. It shook our windows and doors. We immediately ran outside looking for the worst,” she said.
Crystal Dahlman of Blum said in an e-mail, “the explosion shook and rumbled my house worse than thunder.”
Brad Smith of Waxahachie said he and his wife heard what sounded like a thunderclap.
Lydia Zimmerman of Bynum was working in the garden with her husband and daughter at the time of the explosion.
“It sounded like three bombs going off very close to us,” she said.
Gulf war veteran Paul L. Manigrasso felt the blast in Waxahachie.
“Based on my naval experience…we knew immediately what it was, but cannot believe it occurred 40 miles away,” he said.
Chris Moore was at a Wednesday night prayer service in Navarro Mills about 35 miles from West.
He said the blast rocked the church.
“We are praying for our neighbors in West right now,” he said.