Rescue workers among Texas blast dead

2013-04-18 13:15
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Texas explosion in pictures

An explosion at a fertiliser plant in Texas has killed dozens of people. See the pictures.

Washington - Two of those killed in a massive explosion at a fertiliser plant in Texas were emergency medical workers, police said on Thursday. They said between five and 15 people have been killed and more than 160 injured in the blast which prompted a magnitude-2.5 tremor.

Witness Chrystal Ledane told NBC News: "I've heard from firefighters ... from their families ... that they didn't make it. I just hope the number [of fatalities] is not going to be as high as I expect it to be."

Initial evidence suggested it was an accident, Waco police sergeant Patrick Swanton said.

"I have heard no indications that this was anything other than an accident or a fire," Swanton said of the explosion, which flattened dozens of buildings in the town of West, in central Texas.

The site was to be declared a crime scene until a full investigation is concluded.

The explosion ripped through the West Fertiliser Plant, about 100km south of Dallas, early on Wednesday night as firefighters were battling a fire at the site.

1 000 evacuated

Strong wind was hampering efforts to contain the huge fire at the plant. Firefighters want to secure a tank containing dangerous chemicals, which was intact in the explosion that sent a 30m wide fireball into the air.

There were also concerns that the wind could spread toxic gases to other communities. Swanton urged the public to avoid visiting West and the nearby town of Waco, 30km further south.

More than 1 000 people had to be evacuated from the area, according to reports.

Mayor Tommy Muska said the blast and the fire devastated houses and buildings within a five block radius. He said 50 to 80 homes had been flattened in the blast.

Among the worst affected were a nursing home that was adjacent to the fertiliser plant, where 133 people were evacuated.

A 50-unit apartment building appeared to have taken the brunt of the blast, its facade ripped off to reveal the building's wooden frame and the pulverised interior.

Field hospital

"It was complete chaos, like something out of a horror movie," Jesse Ross, an emergency medical technician, told the KTVT broadcaster.

A local doctor, his face bloodied by the blast told local TV station KCEN: "There was just a major, major explosion. The windows came in on me, the roof came in on me, the ceiling came in. We lost all communication when the power went out. The whole street is gone."

A field hospital was set up in the area to treat the injured. Rescue teams were searching for survivors.

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