WACO, Texas — An explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday night near Waco injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting high into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin and causing major damage to surrounding buildings.
The blast at West Fertilizer 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 away.
There was no immediate word from officials about fatalities or the severity of the explosion, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry said state officials were also 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. “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.”
But aerial footage showed fires still smoldering in the ruins of the plant and in several surrounding buildings, and people being treated for injuries on the flood-lit local football field, which had been turned into a staging area for emergency responders.
Debby Marak said 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 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.”
She drove 10 blocks and called her husband and asked him to come get her. When they got to their home about two miles south of town, her husband told her what he’d seen: a huge fireball that rose like “a mushroom cloud.”
More than two hours after the blast, there were still fires smoldering in what was left of the plant and in others burning nearby. The roof of what appeared to be a housing complex of some kind had collapsed. In aerial footage from Dallas’ NBC affiliate, WDFW, 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.