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Texas Town Staggered By Massive Explosion


All this morning, we have been following the aftermath of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas last night. When volunteer firefighters in the city of West, Texas - that's about 20 miles north of Waco - first arrived to battle a fire at the plant, they encountered a disaster in the making.


We're told this fire was burning at the site of a couple of storage tanks, each of which had the capacity to carry 12,000 gallons of ammonia.

GREENE: People took video of the flames from blocks away, and the cameras were still rolling when the plant exploded.

INSKEEP: D.L. Wilson, of the Texas Department of Safety, spoke with reporters early this morning.

D.L. WILSON: I can tell you I was there. I walked through the blast area. I searched some houses earlier tonight - massive, just like Iraq, just like the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City; same kind of anhydrous exploded. So you can imagine what kind of damage we're looking at there.

GREENE: Federal authorities have joined state and local officials on the scene. It is not clear yet how many people were killed in this blast. Police estimated between five and 15 people being dead. More than 160 people are believed to be injured.

Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said local officials are focused on the search for bodies.

SGT. WILLIAM PATRICK SWANTON: That will absolutely allow the fire marshals and ATF to focus on that fertilizer plant, to determine the cause of the fire and the cause of the explosion.

INSKEEP: And the damage here is extended well beyond that plant. Authorities estimate up to 75 buildings were damaged or destroyed, including a 50-unit apartment complex. Our correspondent John Burnett tells us there were fires burning in houses that were not put out until it rained this morning. A nursing home was evacuated.

GREENE: John Burnett also said - he described just an intense smell of burning chemicals hanging over the small town; and this town is clearly facing a very long struggle to recover.

INSKEEP: And we'll continue to bring you more developments from Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.