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Fertilizer Plant Explosion Causes 35 Fatalities in West, Texas

A fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded, resulting in at least 35 deaths. According to news sources, an additional 160 people were injured in the explosion that Texas Gov. Rick Perry called “a nightmare scenario.” Among those killed were first responders. Additionally, more than 75 homes, a middle school, and a nursing home were destroyed or badly damaged in the mile-wide blast. A local hospital indicated that most of the injured survivors would be released from the hospital shortly, but others suffered more serious damage. Broken bones, lacerations, abrasions, head injuries, and breathing problems were reported among the injuries.

Gov. Perry announced that McLennan County is now a disaster area. He said, “In a small town like West, they know that this tragedy has most likely hit every family. It touches practically everyone in that town. So I ask all Texans and Americans to join me and Anita in keeping them in our prayers.” West is located about 20 miles away from Waco, Texas and is home to less than 3,000 residents. President Obama offered any national resources to the town. Gov. Perry said, “We greatly appreciate…his gracious offer of support.”

According to ABC News, approximately five volunteer firefighters responded to a fire at the fertilizer plan this morning. When they realized the danger of the situation, they began evacuating people from the area. The explosion occurred around 7:50 am with the force of a small earthquake. Although emergency responders brought the fire under control later in the day, many residents (including nursing home residents) were trapped in the rubble. Authorities are uncertain as to what actually caused the explosion and are currently unable to reach the source of the explosion at this time. For now, it has been labeled as an industrial accident.

Authorities launched an investigation in the explosion, and suspect that the disaster might be connect with the high levels of ammonium nitrate at the plant. A chemistry professor at the University of Texas said that the same substance is also used as an explosive for mining operations and excavation. Ammonium nitrate is significantly more stable than dynamite, but can lead to an explosion if the chemical elements in the substance are put under stress. The professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University said, “The hotter it is, the faster the reaction will happen.”

Although investigators believe that the blast was an industrial accident, local authorities will treat the area like a crime scene until they reach a definite conclusion about the source of the fire and the explosion. A Waco Police Sargent said law enforcement has yet to find any evidence indicating that the explosion was a crime. “We are not indicating that it is a crime, but we don’t know,” he said, “What that means to us is that until we know that it is an industrial accident, we will work it as a crime scene. ATF is conducting the main investigation.”

Witnesses report that the 2.1 magnitude seismic event was felt between 20 and 30 miles away. Near the plant, the force of the explosion threw people to the ground and shattered windows. A West City Councilwoman described the scene as total chaos. “There are ambulances and fire trucks and police cars from everywhere,” she said. The Councilwoman also said that the whole street was lifted up when the incident occurred. “It demolished both my houses; my mother’s and mine,” she said. According to ABC News, the fertilizer plan was fined over $2,000 in 2006 because the plant’s risk management plan didn’t mean federal standards.