Texas Fertilizer Plant In Ruins After Explosion

A fertilizer plant exploded near Waco, Texas, Wednesday night. For an update on the situation, David Greene talks to Tristan Hallman, a reporter at The Dallas Morning News. For now, the area is being treated as a crime scene.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On a Thursday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE: And I'm David Greene. We are finding out more about last night's explosion at a fertilizer plant in the tiny city of West, Texas. That's just north of Waco. Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton estimates the death toll right now at between five and 15. He says more than 160 people have been injured, but he expects these casualty figures will probably rise. For now, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is treating the area around the plant as a crime scene.

We reached Tristan Hallman, a reporter at the Dallas Morning News, who arrived in West shortly after the explosion happened. Tristan, you've been following the events there overnight. Can you tell us what's happening, at this point?

TRISTAN HALLMAN: What we know, at this point, is that the rescue operations are still ongoing. The EMS is still going from house to house; firefighters are trying to find people. The rest of that is just sort of triage. They're treating people at hospitals in Waco. They're going to try to evacuate as many people as possible.

GREENE: You're saying rescue teams are still looking for people. I mean, are these people who might still be trapped in their homes, or in buildings?

HALLMAN: They think that there still might be people trapped. You know, very little information - the Department of Public Safety is giving out, at this point. But they believe that people still might be there. They might be trapped. They might find, unfortunately, some casualties amongst all the wreckage out there.

GREENE: You say wreckage. I mean, it sounds like this was just a massive explosion that literally, flattened parts of that town.

HALLMAN: Definitely. And there was a nursing home that was just kind of blown away. They evacuated all the seniors that were in there. And there - I guess - was an apartment complex that was pretty well-damaged. A couple of houses were pretty much totaled. There's just a lot of damage done. I don't know if you've seen the video. But there was a fire, and then there was just this huge explosion that went off, that was just massive.

GREENE: Yeah, people taking that footage - I mean, it looked like they were just thrown off their feet and onto the ground.

HALLMAN: Yeah. That's what it looked like.

GREENE: Is it safe for people to be out there? I mean, if we're talking about a fire, an explosion, ammonia that is burning - I mean, are there concerns about air quality, that that could be another problem?

HALLMAN: There is a definite concern, especially since the wind pattern's supposed to shift tonight. We have a cold front coming in. And that could lead to more evacuations in different parts of town, if those people catch some of what was happening at the fertilizer plant.

GREENE: And Tristan, could you just tell us whatever you can about this community of - it's called West, Texas?

HALLMAN: Yeah. It's West-comma-Texas. But it's a small town. It's about a little under 3,000 people, officially. It's a little bit of a famous truck stop or road stop town. If you're traveling between Dallas and Austin or San Antonio, there's a couple of little bakeries. It's very - Czech town. That's Czech with a C-Z-E-C-H.

And their most famous person, I guess, would be Scott Podsednik. He came from here. He's a baseball player. But that's pretty much it. I mean, it's a very tight-knit community, and definitely saw that tonight at the triage center.

GREENE: Well, it's hard to imagine what that community is going through right now. Tristan Hallman is a reporter with the Dallas Morning News. And Tristan, thanks so much for getting on the line with us.

HALLMAN: Thank you.

GREENE: He was speaking to us from the city of West, Texas, where a fertilizer plant exploded following a fire last night.

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