Firefighters and resque workers are looking for survivors of a fiery explosion of a fertilizer plant that killed as many as 15 people, injured more than 160 and leveled houses in a small Texas city.
Moreover, Â about four volunteers involved in searches of the victims were among the missing following the explosion on Wednesday night, said Sgt. William Patrick Swanton of the Waco, Texas, police department.
Firefighters had responded to a call at the West Fertilizer Co before the 8 p.m. blast that rocked West, a town of 2,700 people about 20 miles north of Waco, reports Reuters.
The death toll has risen to 15 people, Swanton said at a news conference with reporters in Waco on Thursday. “That’s a rough number,” he said.
“There are still firefighters missing,” Swanton added. “They were actively fighting the fire at the time the explosion occurred. Rescuers are still in a search and rescue mode.”
“That’s good news to me, meaning that they’re probably still getting injured people,” Swanton said. “They have not gotten to the point of no return where they don’t think that there’s anybody still alive.”
Swanton also revealed that a significant area of the plant had been destroyed, and that homes were damaged as far as five blocks away.
â€śHomes have been destroyed. Part of that community is gone,â€ť he said.
He went on, adding that a small amount of looting had been reported in the area. There are some unidentified people in the area.
â€śI canâ€™t tell you the number of looters or whether they have been caught â€¦ that is a significant concern for us,â€ť he said.
However, there is no word yet on the cause of the fire, Swanton said.
Witness Kevin Smith told reporters that he had just climbed up 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.”
Light rain was falling and winds reached the speed of 22 miles per hour Thursday morning, conditions that could become an obstacle for the recovery effort or prompt additional evacuations.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said. “It looks like a war zone with all the debris.”
Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco admitted 28 of more than 100 people it treated, with five who is currently in the intensive care unit, said David Argueta, vice president of operations.
Governor Rick Perry announced that 21 National Guard members had been sent to the city of Waco to help with emergency response efforts.
President Barack Obama said federal emergency officials were monitoring the local and state response. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said it is sending a “large investigation team” to the scene.
According to athorities, the plant produced materials similar to those used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
West Mayor Tommy Muska said that his city of about 2,800 people needs “your prayers.”
“We’ve got a lot of people who are hurt, and there’s a lot of people, I’m sure, who aren’t going to be here tomorrow,” Muska said. “We’re going to search for everybody. We’re going make sure everybody’s accounted for. That’s the most important thing right now.”