West, TX – Crews are still performing search and rescue in the aftermath of the Texas fertilizer plant explosion. As they searched for survivors, rescuers were forced to sift carefully through demolished houses and apartments.
Initial reports from law enforcement put the death toll between five and 15. But, since then, authorities backed away from any estimate.
More than 160 people were injured on Wednesday night when the West Fertilizer Co. factory exploded. The massive ball of fire and concussion from the explosion leveled several homes and businesses. It heavily damaged between 50 and 75.
Also damaged were an apartment complex, a nursing home, and a school. Police announced that there were two bodies discovered on the first floor of the apartments as well as 12 firefighters/law enforcement officials pronounced dead.
West’s mayor, Tommy Muska, stated on Thursday that no survivors were recovered inside the rubble of the destroyed homes. Despite this, he added, “We’re still holding out some hope.” He added that seven of the firefighters killed on Wednesday night were from West. Another victim was Dallas firefighter Captain Kenny Harris, 52, who lived in West.
Harris wasn’t on duty when the fire broke out Wednesday morning. Instead, he decided to lend a hand to the town’s volunteer firefighters. His death was confirmed by Dallas Fire-Rescue. The rescue teams were able to clear 80 percent of the homes and three-fourths of the apartment complex near the Texas explosion site.
Along with searching for survivors, Kelly Kistner of the State Fire Marshal’s Office stated that the blast site was cleared around 6 pm local time. He added that all concerns about a toxic leak or another explosion were resolved. An air quality assessment is expected on Friday.
For search crews, the operation has been difficult. Waco police Sargeant W. Patrick Swanton stated that the responders are performing a “hard, gut-wrenching job.” The small town of 2,800 people is one where everyone knows everyone else. That means that many crews were likely seeing the bodies of friends and acquaintances.
No additional injury numbers or fatality numbers were released for the Texas explosion, though official numbers may come on Friday.
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