A small Texas town where as many as 15 people were killed in an explosion at a fertilizer plant late Wednesday is reeling as rescuers comb the rubble house by house and one official laments: “part of that community is gone.”
Police initially said between 5 to 15 people were killed, but authorities have since backed away from any total estimate. More than 160 were injured during the massive blast at West Fertilizer in downtown West — a community of roughly 2,600 residents about 20 miles north of Waco. The explosion occurred around 8 p.m. and could be heard as far away as Waxahachie, a town located 45 miles north. It sent flames spiraling high into the evening sky and rained burning embers, shrapnel and debris down on frightened residents.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told reporters in a news conference Thursday night that the impact of the explosion was worse than he expected. “The devastation is immense,” he said. But, he added the other thing he saw while touring West was “the sign of hope” and “the beginnings of a community trying to piece itself back together.”
Still, police officials said in the same news conference that they are still undergoing search and rescue efforts, and have not yet started on recovery efforts. Police also stressed that they can only confirm that there are fatalities, but that they have no concrete numbers yet.
Earlier on Thursday, Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton lamented that “homes have been destroyed. There are homes flattened. Part of that community is gone.”
A member of the city council, Al Vanek, said a four-block area around the explosion was “totally decimated.” Other witnesses compared the scene to that of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and authorities said the plant made materials similar to that used to fuel the bomb that tore apart that city’s Murrah Federal Building.