The West Fertilizer Company’s plant exploded at 8:00 PM local time Wednesday, destroying buildings in a four-block area surrounding it. “It’s like a nuclear bomb went off,” one witness told reporters. Others said that the earth shook and things were flying everywhere. “It was like a tornado,” another said. It measured on USGS instruments as a 2.1 geological event. Early casualty numbers indicate at least 15 dead and 160 injured.
Witnesses compared the blast-stricken area to a war zone or the Oklahoma City bombing, an apt comparison since the plant made a similar compound as the one used by Timothy McVeigh. But for some perspective, McVeigh’s bomb consisted of 4,800 pounds of fertilizer, enough to fill a Ryder truck with the equivalent of 2.5 tons of TNT. The Waco plant held far more although the exact amount is not known at this time. The force of the blast left 50-75 homes, a 50-unit apartment building, a middle school and a nursing home “totally decimated.”
This video captures the explosion:
It started with a fire, which the West, TX (that’s the name of the town, not location) volunteer fire department responded to around 7:30 PM. Those firefighters and one police officer with them are believed to be among the dead. Thankfully, those firefighters had sent word to other responders to evacuate the area, realizing the danger the fire presented. That warning saved hundreds of lives, including 133 from the nursing home alone.
The main fire was under control by 11:00 PM local time but the chaos still endures. Many are homeless and others, further out from the epicenter, were told to remain in their homes due to the possibility of new explosions or ammonia leaks. The school athletic field and the town’s community center acted as triage centers until the injured could be taken to hospitals in Waco.
Many witnesses have tales of being blown off their feet by the blast. One woman, who was at the school field with her son said that he was thrown four feet into the air. Another, playing basketball nearby, was thrown to the ground with his group as embers, debris and shrapnel rained down on them.
Officials say that the explosion was just an industrial accident – though I’m sure the conspiracy theories will begin soon. The plant had been cited by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2006 for problems with permits, having been alerted by complaints of a strong ammonia smell. Governor Perry is sending representatives from that agency as well as the state’s emergency management department and an incident management team, an urban search and rescue team, the state health department and mobile medical units. The U.S. Chemical Board is also sending investigators.
In a weird bit of synchronicity, on this very same day in 1947 another explosion occurred in Texas. The French ship Grandcamp berthed in Texas City, caught fire with 2,300 tons of fertilizer and other cargo, including balls of twine, tobacco, cotton bales and ammunition, and exploded in a massive fireball. Most of the town was leveled. That blast was the worst industrial disaster in the nation’s history. The precise number of casualties was impossible to pinpoint but it’s estimated that nearly 500 people perished and more than 3,500 were injured. Thank the gods (pick yours) that this explosion wasn’t nearly as huge.
So now the people of West begin to pick themselves up and piece their lives back together. Besides your prayers and best wishes, you can help in a couple of ways. The Red Cross is accepting donations of any amount. You can also donate blood, either through the Red Cross Center nearest you or other blood banks. You don’t have to be in Texas to donate. They will really be needing type O-positive, the universal donor. Please consider donating if you are able. ABC News is constantly updating the story here. If you have family in the area and want to check on them, you can call 254-826-4115. We here at Addicting Info are keeping the people of West, TX in our thoughts and hope that you will do the same.
T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…