Obama Declares Emergency After Texas Plant Blast [SLIDE SHOW]

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

Associated Press Release

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama has issued an emergency declaration and pledged disaster relief aid to Texas to help in the recovery efforts following this week's deadly fertilizer plant explosion near Waco.

Obama's order Friday night authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in the town of West. Wednesday's explosion at the West Fertilizer plant killed at least 14 people, injured more than 200 others and demolished buildings for blocks around.

After addressing the arrest of the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect Friday night, the president extended his sympathies to the community of West and everyone else affected by the explosion.

Obama said he's spoken with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and West's mayor, and he pledged that the community will have the resources it needs to rebuild.


Associated Press Release

WEST, Texas (AP) -- A law enforcement official says two more bodies have been recovered in the wake of the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, bring the death toll from the blast to 14.

Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes did not say where the bodies were found but said more information would be provided later Friday.

He says the bodies will be sent to the Dallas County medical examiner's office for identification.

Reyes earlier announced that 12 bodies had been recovered by Friday morning and that search and rescue efforts were ongoing.


Associated Press Release

WEST, Texas (AP) -- Federal investigators and the state fire marshal's office will be moving toward an inspection of the site of Wednesday's explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant, looking for evidence that may point to a cause.

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says the investigation is starting at the perimeter of the explosion, and will work inward toward the destroyed fertilizer company itself.

As investigators move inward, authorities say, residents will gradually be allowed to return to their homes.

But the town of West won't easily recover. An apartment complex was badly shattered by the explosion. A school was set on fire and heavily damaged, and a nursing home was left in ruins.

Authorities confirmed today that the bodies of 12 people were recovered from the fertilizer plant and the surrounding area. The victims are believed to include a small group of first-responders who headed toward the plant to fight the fire that would apparently touch off the explosion.


Associated Press Release

By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN and WILL WEISSERT

WEST, Texas (AP) -- A Texas law enforcement official says 12 bodies have been recovered following a massive explosion that leveled a fertilizer plant.

Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes said Friday that about 200 people were injured in the explosion at facility Wednesday night in the small farming community of West, about 20 miles north of Waco.

Search and rescue crews have been sifting through the still-smoldering remains for survivors. That work continues. The blast crumpled dozens of homes, an apartment building, a school and a nursing home.

Authorities say there's no indication that the blast was anything other than an industrial accident sparked by a fire. The company has been cited for apparently minor safety and permitting violations over the past decade.


Plant Explosion Caught on Cell Phone Cam, CBSNews.com


WEST, Texas (AP) -- Worshippers came by the hundreds to pray at a non-denominational church service honoring the victims of a Central Texas fertilizer plant blast.

Several hundred people on Thursday night packed St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in downtown West.

A victim relief services chaplain says the prayers and hymns honor the first responders who rushed toward the danger of the plant fire that led to the blast -- and those who were simply too close to the site when the blast erupted.

Hundreds of white candles were distributed in the pews for a candlelight tribute.

Initial reports put the fatalities in the Wednesday blast as high as 15, but later Thursday authorities backed away from any estimate and refused to elaborate. More than 160 people were hurt.


Associated Press Release

DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Fire-Rescue department says one of its off-duty fire captains was killed while helping fight the blaze at the Texas fertilizer plant that exploded in the small town of West.

Dallas Fire-Rescue says in a Thursday statement that Capt. Kenny Harris lived in West and wasn't on duty when he decided to lend a hand to volunteer firefighters battling the Wednesday night fire at West Fertilizer Co.

The statement says Harris was a 52-year-old married father of three grown sons. The Dallas Fire-Rescue chaplain and other members of department are in West to help comfort his family.

Initial reports had put the number of fatalities from the blast as high as 15, but authorities have since backed away from any total estimate. More than 160 people were hurt.


Associated Press Release

By JOHN L. MONE and MICHAEL BRICK

WEST, Texas (AP) -- A massive explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, shaking the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and leveling homes and businesses for blocks in every direction. Rescuers searched rubble early Thursday for survivors.

The explosion in downtown West, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of Dallas, could be heard dozens of miles away. It sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers, shrapnel and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.

"They are still getting injured folks out and they are evacuating people from their homes," Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said early Thursday morning. He added later, "At some point this will turn into a recovery operation, but at this point, we are still in search and rescue."

Swanton said officials went building to building in the largely decimated area around the plant that exploded with the strength of a small earthquake in downtown West, a farming community about 20 miles north of Waco.

"They have not gotten to the point of no return where they don't think that there's anybody still alive," Swanton said. He did not know how many people had been rescued.

Swanton said authorities believe that between five and 15 people were killed in the blast, but stressed that is an early estimate as search and rescue operations remain under way. There is no indication the blast was anything other than an industrial accident, he said.

Among those believe to be dead: A group of volunteer firefighters and a single law enforcement officer who responded to a fire call at the West Fertilizer Co. about an hour before the blast. They remained unaccounted for early Thursday morning.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said it was deploying a large investigation team to West. An Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms national response team that investigates all large fires and explosions also was coming in, bringing fire investigators, certified explosives specialists, chemists, canines and forensic specialists. But entry to the blast site wasn't expected until later. "It's still too hot to get in there," said Franceska Perot, an ATF spokesperson.

American Red Cross crews from across Texas also headed to the scene to help evacuated residents.

The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. leveled a four-block area around the plant that a member of the city council, Al Vanek, said was "totally decimated." The toll included 50 to 75 houses, an apartment complex with about 50 units that one state police officer said was reduced to "a skeleton," a middle school and the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, from which first-responders evacuated 133 patients, some in wheelchairs.

Other witnesses compared the scene to 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.

Although authorities said it will be some time before they know the full extent of the loss of life, they put the number of those injured at more than 160 early Thursday. West Mayor Tommy Muska told reporters that his city of about 2,800 residents needs "your prayers."

"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," Muska said. "We're gonna search for everybody. We're gonna make sure everybody's accounted for. That's the most important thing right now."

In the hours after the blast, many of the town's residents wandered the dark and windy streets searching for shelter. Among them was Julie Zahirniako, who said she and her son, Anthony, had been playing at a school playground near the fertilizer plant when the explosion hit. She was walking the track, he was kicking a football.

The explosion threw her son 4 feet (over a meter) in the air, breaking his ribs. She said she saw people running from the nursing home and the roof of the school lifted into the air.

"The fire was so high," she said. "It was just as loud as it could be. The ground and everything was shaking."

The town's volunteer firefighters had responded to a call at the plant at 7:29 p.m., Swanton said. Due to the plant's chemical stockpile, "they realized the seriousness of what they had," he said.

Muska was among the firefighters, and he and his colleagues were working to evacuate the area around the plant when the blast followed about 20 minutes later. Muska said it knocked off his fire helmet and blew out the doors and windows of his nearby home.

The main fire was under control as of 11 p.m., Wilson said, but residents were urged to remain indoors because of the threat of new explosions or leaks of ammonia from the plant's ruins.

Dozens of emergency vehicles amassed at the scene in the hours after the blast, as fires continued to smolder in the ruins of the plant and in several surrounding buildings. Aerial footage showed injured people being treated on the flood-lit football field that had been turned into a staging area.

Vanek said first-responders treated victims at about half a dozen sites, and he saw several injured residents from the nursing home being treated at the community center. Swanton said the injured were being taken to hospitals in Waco and a triage center at high school in nearby Abbott.

Glenn A. Robinson, the chief executive of Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, told the Waco Tribune-Herald the hospital had treated more than 100 people, including 14 who would likely be admitted, but that none had died. He said the injuries included cuts, broken bones and others expected from flying debris. The hospital has set up a hotline for families of the victims to get information, he said.

Robinson told the paper 30 people were also treated at Providence Hospital in Waco, and several others were sent to the burn unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Two children were taken to McLane Children's Hospital in Temple, he said.

"We did get there and got that taken care of," Muska said of the nursing home evacuation.

Erick Perez, 21, of West, was playing basketball at a nearby school when the fire started. He and his friends thought nothing of it at first, but about a half-hour later, the smoke changed color. The blast threw him, his nephew and others to the ground and showered the area with hot embers, shrapnel and debris.

"The explosion was like nothing I've ever seen before," Perez said. "This town is hurt really bad."

Information was hard to come by in the hours after the blast, and entry into the town was slow-going as the roads were jammed with emergency vehicles rushing in to help. A spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the state sent personnel from several agencies to help, including the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, the state's emergency management department and an incident management team. Also responding is the state's top urban search and rescue team, the state health department and mobile medical units.

Swanton said he had no details on the number of people who work at the plant, which was cited by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2006 for failing to obtain or to qualify for a permit. The agency acted after receiving a complaint in June of that year of a strong ammonia smell.

In 2001, an explosion at a chemical and fertilizer plant killed 31 people and injured more than 2,000 in Toulouse, France. The blast occurred in a hangar containing 300 tons of ammonium nitrate, which can be used for both fertilizer and explosives. The explosion came 10 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., and raised fears at the time it was linked. A 2006 report blamed the blast on negligence.

------

Associated Press writers Schuyler Dixon and Terry Wallace in Dallas, and Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, contributed to this report.


Associated Press Release

Updated at 12:58 a.m. ET

WEST, Texas (AP) — A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction.

The explosion at West Fertilizer in the town of West happened shortly before 8 p.m. local time and could be heard as far as 45 miles away.

Tommy Muska, West's mayor, said at a news conference three hours after the explosion that he didn't yet know how many people had been injured or killed. He said buildings in a five-block radius from the plant were severely damaged by the explosion.

Among the damaged buildings was the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, from which first-responders evacuated 133 patients, some in wheelchairs. "We did get there and got that taken care of," Muska said.

Information was hard to come by in the hours after the blast, with even Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying state officials were waiting for details about the extent of the damage.

"We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident," Perry said in a statement. "We have also mobilized state resources to help local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West, and the first responders on the scene."

Aerial footage showed fires still smoldering in the ruins of the plant and in several surrounding buildings, and people being treated for injuries on a flood-lit local football field, which had been turned into a staging area for emergency responders.

Debby Marak told The Associated Press that when she finished teaching her religion class Wednesday night, she noticed a lot of smoke in the area across town near the plant, which is near a nursing home. She said she drove over to see what was happening, and that when she got there, two boys came running toward her screaming that the authorities ordered everyone out because the plant was going to explode.

She said she drove about a block when the blast happened.

"It was like being in a tornado," Marak, 58, said by phone. "Stuff was flying everywhere. It blew out my windshield."

"It was like the whole earth shook."

She drove 10 blocks and called her husband and asked him to come get her. When they got to their home south of town, her husband told her what he'd seen: a huge fireball that rose like "a mushroom cloud."

The explosion caused the roof of what appeared to be a housing complex of some kind to collapse. In aerial footage from NBC's Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate, KXAS, dozens of emergency vehicles could be seen amassed at the scene. Entry into West was slow-going, as the roads were jammed with emergency vehicles rushing in to help out.

Authorities set up a staging area on a flood-lit high school football field, where the injured were being treated or taken to area hospitals via road or helicopter.

Glenn A. Robinson, the chief executive of Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, told CNN that his hospital had received 66 injured people for treatment, including 38 who were seriously hurt. He said the injuries included blast injuries, orthopedic injuries, large wounds and a lot of lacerations and cuts. The hospital has set up a hotline for families of the victims to get information, he said.

Robinson did not immediately return messages from the AP.

American Red Cross crews from across Texas were being sent to the site, the organization said. Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster said the group was working with emergency management officials in West to find a safe shelter for residents displaced from their homes. She said teams from Austin to Dallas and elsewhere are being sent to the community north of Waco.

A West Fire Department dispatcher said any casualties would be transported to hospitals in Waco, north of Austin, the state capital.

The explosion knocked out power to many area customers and could be heard and felt for miles around.

Brad Smith, who lives 45 miles north of West in Waxahachie, told the station that he and his wife heard what sounded like a thunderclap.

Lydia Zimmerman, told KWTX that she, her husband and daughter were in their garden, 13 miles (20 kilometers) from West, when they heard multiple blasts.

"It sounded like three bombs going off very close to us," she said.

Rafael Abreu, a geophysicist with National Earthquake Information Center of the U.S. Geological Survey, said the explosion did not register on a seismograph because most of the blast's energy dissipated in the atmosphere.


Associated Press Release

WACO, Texas (AP) -- American Red Cross crews from across Texas are being sent to the site of an explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco where multiple injuries have been reported.

Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster says her group is working with emergency management officials in the town of West to find a safe shelter for residents displaced from their homes. She says teams from Austin to Dallas and elsewhere are being sent to the community north of Waco.

A West Fire Department dispatcher says the explosion happened Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant. She says any casualties would be taken to hospitals in Waco. It was unclear how many were injured or if any fatalities occurred.

The Department of Public Safety says troopers have been transporting the injured to hospitals.


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