West, Texas, Responds To Massive Plant Explosion

In the Texas town, of West, a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant leveled buildings for blocks in every direction. A nursing home was evacuated.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene, good morning. When firefighters arrived at a fertilizer plant in Texas last night, they encountered a disaster in the making.

INSKEEP: A fire was burning at the site of two storage tanks. Each 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 to reporters earlier 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: There's no permanent fire company in town. There's a local volunteer company and includes the mayor of West, Tommy Muska. He was driving to plant when the explosion blew the side-view mirrors off of his vehicle.

MAYOR TOMMY MUSKA: The fertilizer plant was fully engulfed, and that in turn caught the intermediate school on fire. A number of houses in that area are completely destroyed or damaged.

INSKEEP: In fact, authorities estimate that up to 75 buildings were damaged or destroyed, including a 50-unit apartment complex. This would be a substantial part of a town that's only a few thousand people. A nursing home was evacuated. We don't have any good figures on casualties, but it is said that more than 160 were injured an unknown number of people are dead.

A makeshift triage center was set up on the high school football field, but the injured have now been moved to area hospitals.

GREENE: Our correspondent John Burnett was in West overnight, and described the intense smell of burning chemicals hanging over the small town, which now faces a struggle to recover.

INSKEEP: We'll continue to bring you more on that story.

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