Gov. Perry declares Waco area disaster zone after fertilizer plant explosion

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Gov. Rick Perry declared McLennan County a disaster area and said he will seek a federal emergency declaration after a fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday night.

The current death toll from the explosion in West — a town about 20 miles north of Waco — is an estimated 5 to 15 people. The blast injured over 100 people and damaged at least 75 homes and one school, and Perry said some homes had been blown off their foundations completely. Search teams are still going through the remains of the plant in search of survivors.

At a press conference Thursday, Perry spoke to the scope of the incident and confirmed he would request a federal emergency declaration from President Barack Obama.

“It’s been a tragic, difficult 16 hours for all of us, all of our friends and all of our loved ones,” Perry said. “Last night was truly a nightmare scenario for that community.”

Perry said multiple state agencies are responding to the situation in West: the Texas Department of Public Safety is supplying law enforcement personnel, Texas Task Forces 1 and 2 are conducting search and rescue operations, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is conducting air quality tests and the Texas Department of Transportation is directing traffic.

Zak Covar, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, confirmed the fertilizer  plant had not been inspected since 2006, when a complaint was filed about an “ammonia odor” emanating from the plant. Covar said generally plants are only inspected when a complaint is filed.

Perry said he did not know if funding for volunteer fire departments has fluctuated in the last few years but said it was a major consideration for him when he was a member of the Texas House of Representatives in the late 1980s.

“I found substantial resources for volunteer fire departments,” Perry said. “I understand [their] importance.”

Perry said he was not prepared to say what the economic impact on the community would be and did not know how significant of a presence the plant had as an employer in the town.

"West is a really small community and just a few thousand people ... they know that this tragedy has most likely hit every family," Perry said. "It’s touched practically everyone in that town.”

Perry emphasized a need for community support and recommended that citizens donate blood to their local blood bank.

“There will be immediate need for blood,” Perry said. “I would direct you to the American Red Cross.”

To schedule a blood donation appointment, visit www.redcrossblood.org or visit the Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas at www.inyourhands.org.