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Texas Area Rattled After Fertilizer Plant Explosion


The nation's attention turns this morning to a tiny city in Texas. It's simply called West. It is the site of a fertilizer plant from which a message went out to police radio last night.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: There has been an explosion on the fire scene. There are firefighters down at this time. Again, there has been an explosion on the fire scene. There are firefighters down at this time.


Now, this began as a simple fire, and our correspondent John Burnett says members of the local volunteer fire department quickly realized the flames were close to two giant tanks of ammonia.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: So these half-dozen firefighters, they realize how dangerous it is. They start to evacuate a nursing home nearby as well as a 50-unit apartment complex.

INSKEEP: And then a tank exploded. Orange flames lit up the night sky. Earthquake monitors recorded the blast. Sgt. Patrick Swanton is with the police department from nearby Waco.

PATRICK SWANTON: I can confirm that there may be firefighters that are unaccounted for and potentially, law enforcement officers as well. We're still trying to determine that.

INSKEEP: It is estimated that between five and 15 people were killed, more than 160 injured.

GREENE: West resident William Burch(ph) described his town after the blast.

WILLIAM BURCH: Everything was blown up down there. The nursing home, we actually had to go in and remove Sheetrock off the top of people - and got them out. There's some areas down there that are pretty bad.

INSKEEP: The elderly were evacuated to the local hospital and to a community center. Reporter Becky Fogel, of member station KWBU, was there.

BECKY FOGEL: People were showing up with blankets. People were showing up with water. I saw one pickup truck pull up, and it was just full - full with wheelchairs and walkers, to help individuals who couldn't walk.

GREENE: The fire is said to be under control, though a small Texas town is now facing a massive job of recovery.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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