5 to 15 People believed dead in TX plant explosion
Updated: Thursday, April 18 2013, 08:20 AM EDT
(UPDATE 8:20AM) WEST, Texas (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - We're learning new details Thursday morning about a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Around 5AM authorities confirmed that at least five to 15 people are presumed dead but they say that number could rise as they continue to search the area.
West's EMS director, Dr. George Smith, confirmed after 4 a.m. that two emergency personnel had been killed in the explosion, which occurred at West Fertilizer Co., just off Interstate 35, about 80 miles south of Dallas.
The blast Wednesday night was so powerful it was registered as a 2.1 magnitude quake and decimated at least a 4-block area destroying nearby homes, witnesses say everything around the plant had been blown apart or collapsed.
Authorities have been evacuating residents of the town of 2,600, including more than 130 occupants of a nearby nursing home.
A triage center that had been set up at West High School was being moved after emergency personnel became worried that harmful fumes might spread. Authorities were also monitoring a second tank near the blast site that was prompting concerns of another explosion.
West Mayor Tommy Muska said residents were bracing for news of neighbors' deaths.
"We've got a lot of people who are hurt, and there's a lot of people, I'm sure, who aren't gonna be here tomorrow," he said. "We're gonna search for everybody. We're gonna make sure everybody's accounted for. That's the most important thing right now."
The American Red Cross was sending teams from throughout the region and was working to find shelter for the evacuees.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board was deploying a large investigation team to West, and Gov. Rick Perry said state officials were monitoring developments.
The pope has even been using his Twitter account to ask followers to pray for victims. In a message posted Thursday morning, Pope Francis said: "Please join me in praying for the victims of the explosion in Texas and their families."
Meantime we are learning the plant was cited in 2006 for failing to obtain or to qualify for a permit.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated West Fertilizer on June 20, 2006, after receiving a complaint June 9 of a strong ammonia smell.
Agency records show that the person who lodged the complaint said the ammonia smell was "very bad last night" and lingered until after he or she went to bed.