The deafening explosion occurred around 7.50 pm on Wednesday (US) at the fertiliser plant in West, a small town about 320 km of Houston.
“There are a lot of people that got hurt,” said West Mayor Tommy Muska. “There are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow. It was a like a nuclear bomb went off...Big old mushroom cloud.”
Muska said a fire broke out at the fertiliser plant before the explosion, which devastated surrounding areas, destroying 10 homes and damaging 50 more. It also triggered a 2.1 magnitude earthquake. A fire burnt furiously at the plant, hours after the powerful explosion on Wednesday night. Emergency services said they had the blaze under control.
Chrystal Anthony, a local, said she saw the flames engulf the nursing home and an apartment complex. “It was an apartment complex that was devastated, the nursing home. The fire was close to a residential area,” Anthony said.
“It was like a bomb went off,” said Barry Murry, a resident who lives about a mile away from the plant. “There were emergency vehicles everywhere. It has been overwhelming.”
Rescuers launched a door-to-door search overnight in the area near the explosion, looking for dead or injured. Toxic gas was feared to have been released into the air and authorities were worried that a second fertiliser tank may explode. The cause of the explosion and the earlier fire in the plant is under investigation. West is a small city of 2,600 residents. Half the town was evacuated after the explosion.
Texas Department of Public Safety Spokesperson Gail Scarborough put the number of injured at 200 of which he said 40 were critical. Besides human casualties, about 75 to 100 houses and businesses were completely destroyed in and around the plant. Residents were evacuated, as officials feared that another tank at the facility might explode.