UT students, West residents react to fertilizer plant explosion

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Emergency workers evacuate elderly from a damaged nursing home following an explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco caused numerous injuries and sent flames shooting high into the night sky on Wednesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

WEST — A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday killed an undetermined number of people and sent flames shooting into the sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction.

The explosion at West Fertilizer Co in West, a community about 20 miles north of Waco, happened shortly before 8 p.m. and could be heard as far away as Waxahachie, 45 miles to the north. 

“We do have confirmed fatalities,” Texas Public Safety Department spokesman D.L. Wilson said at a news conference about four hours after the explosion. “The number is not current yet. It could go up by the minute. We’re in there searching the area right now and making sure that it’s safe.”

Melany Jean, an anthropology and art history junior from West, said she felt helpless and shocked when she heard the news. Jean, who went to West High School, said her parents moved closer to Waco earlier this year, but her good friends and grandparents still live in town — and that she was able to contact them through social media.

“I heard from my immediate friends, mostly because we’ve all been checking up on each other through social medial, twitter, etc..” Jean said. “So far, everyone has been fine, but it’s going to be an incredibly heavy blow. We’re a small community.”

Jean said she has faith in the resilience of her community.

“It’s a really small town, with a lot of people, and everyone is either family or feels like family,” Jean said. “I think the people who aren’t as affected will step up, quickly, for the people who are. It’s such a great town.”

Jean said the fertilizer plant, which is located in a residential area, has never been a cause for concern in the West community before.

“I’ve never heard anyone say they felt unsafe about it, ever,” Jean said. “Honestly, I’ve never even thought about it.” 

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.

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.

Printed on Thursday, April 18, 2013 as Fetilizer plant explodes in West