Residents of the town of West, Texas, near Waco, describe the explosion at a fertilizer plant that injured more than 160 people. There is still no official death count.
FIRST A FIRE, THEN THE EXPLOSION
In the above video, CNN's Tom Foreman takes a look at how the shock waves from an explosion in West, Texas, traveled through the area.
The small town of about 2800 people was almost leveled. The force propelled residents through windows, shattered glass and collapsed roofs within a half-mile radius.
<<Earlier Thursday, officials estimated that between five and 15 people had been killed, including first responders. But Texas governor Rick Perry said he "was not comfortable" releasing the number of dead as search and rescue operations were underway. At least 75 houses, a nursing home and a middle school were damaged or destroyed.
The force propelled residents through windows, shattered glass and collapsed roofs within a half-mile radius.
The explosion roughly 20 miles north of Waco erupted as firefighters battled a blaze at the plant. The eruption registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and sent up a massive plume of smoke that could be seen up to 45 miles away.
Texas emergency officials are still unsure what caused the blast, and a special response team of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been sent to the site.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said more than 200 law enforcement officers from throughout Texas were attempting to recover bodies from the debris and rescue possible survivors. McNamara, who has been sheriff for only four months, said he wouldn’t have a full count of the dead and missing until later Thursday.
“This is heartbreaking. There’s no other way to describe it,” he said. “The devastation was unbelievable.”>>
Volunteer firefighters were among the missing following the blast on Wednesday night, said Sgt. William Patrick Swanton of the Waco, Texas, police department.
Firefighters had been fighting a fire at the West Fertilizer Co for about 20 minutes before the 8 p.m. blast rocked West, a town of 2,700 people about 20 miles north of Waco.
The plant had tanks of volatile anhydrous ammonia, including what initial reports said was a tanker-sized container like those hauled on freight trains, Swanton said at a news conference on Thursday. However, the immediate threat from fumes appeared to have abated, he said.
The blast destroyed 60 to 80 houses, officials said. It reduced a 50-unit apartment complex to what one local official called "a skeleton standing up" and left a horrific landscape of burned-out buildings and blackened rubble.
"It looks like a war zone with all the debris," McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said.
Emergency crews were moving from house to house in a search and rescue operation, Swanton said.
"That's good news to me, meaning that they're probably still getting injured people," he said. "They have not gotten to the point of no return where they don't think that there's anybody still alive.""There are still firefighters missing," Swanton said. "They were actively fighting the fire at the time the explosion occurred."
The explosion came two days before the 20th anniversary of a fire in Waco, a short distance away, that engulfed a compound inhabited by David Koresh and his followers in the Branch Davidian religious sect, ending a siege by federal agents. About 82 members of the sect and four federal agents died at Waco.
In West, witness Kevin Smith told CBS News he had just climbed the stairs to the second floor of his home when he felt the blast.
"The house exploded. It was just a bright flash and a roar, I thought it was lightning striking the house," Smith said. "I felt myself flying through the air about 10 feet, and it took a second or two to realize that the roof had caved in on me so I knew it wasn't lightning."
Three hospitals in Waco and Dallas reported treating more than 160 injuries from the blast.
VIDEO OF THE MOMENT OF THE EXPLOSION
Ground motion from the blast registered as a magnitude 2.1 seismic tremor and created a jolt felt 80 miles away in Dallas, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.
THIS IS A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY FOR THIS SMALL TOWN AND REPORTS OF NEWLY DISCOVERED INJURED KEEP COMING IN.
FOR THOSE OF YOU UNFAMILIAR WITH THE "WACO MASSACRE" BY THE U.S.IN 1993...
Few realize that on February 28, 1993 when BATF agents in National Guard helicopters zoomed in on the Branch Davidians' church and home, Mount Carmel Center, they did so with guns blazing, like Americans raiding a Vietnamese village in that far off war. ... It is likely FBI agents deliberately sabotaged negotiations with Davidians to prevent their exiting Mount Carmel. Their goal was to destroy the building and its damaging evidence, even if that meant the massacre of dozens of men, women and children, all witnesses to the brutal attack. — Carol Moore: Overview of Davidian Massacre
At dawn on April 19, 1993, and throughout the morning, tanks rammed holes in the main building and pumped (in the FBI's words) "massive amounts" of CS gas into the building, despite knowing that inside were more than a dozen children. The tanks demolished parts of the compound and created tunnels for the wind to blow through. The buildings at this point were saturated with inflammable CS gas and spilled kerosene.
Around midday two U.S. military pyrotechnic devices were fired into the main building, igniting a fire which (because of the holes in the walls allowing the wind to gust through) spread rapidly through the complex of buildings and became an inferno. 74 men, women and children died — including twelve children younger than five years of age. Fire trucks were prevented by the FBI from approaching the inferno. After the compound had burned down the BATF flag was hoisted aloft to signify 'victory'. Subsequently the burned-out ruin was razed in an attempt to remove all evidence of this premeditated murder of innocent civilians by agents of the U.S. government. Thus occurred an atrocity which many Americans believe could never happen in their country. A look at the evidence presented in the film Waco: Rules of Engagement (and in the BBC documentary broadcast in the U.K. on November 28, 1998) shows that it did happen.
The lawyer for one of the survivors said at one of the U.S. government 'investigations' (or rather, whitewashes): In this country when people are accused of a crime they are arrested and given a trial — that's 'due process'. If found guilty of murder then maybe they are killed. We don't just kill them first" — which is what happened at Waco. [SNIP]
HERE IS ONE DOCUMENTARY, ONE VIEW OF WHAT HAPPENED THAT DAY.
PARTS 2 AND 3 CAN BE VIEWED HERE, BUT MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.: