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Explosion at Plant in West, Texas Shakes the State

As many as 30 feared dead in fertilizer plant accident
Monica Riese, 11:05am, Thu. Apr. 18, 2013

Late Wednesday night, the north Central Texas town of West – perhaps best-known for the Czech Stop (pictured) and its kolaches on the I-35 corridor – was shaken by an explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant.

Photo via andybartee/Instagram

At this time, details are still hazy as first responders and city staff try to assess the situation, but here's what we know so far:

• A fire broke out at the plant in the town 20 miles north of Waco Wednesday evening around 6:30pm.

• As firefighters struggled to contain that blaze, the estimated 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia exploded around 8pm, literally shaking the town and its 2,800 residents – the blast registered a 2.1 magnitude on the Richter scale. Some reports say the quake was felt as far away as Waxahachie.

• As of this morning, the entire town was ordered to evacuate on account of continued danger from ammonia exposure. West schools will remain closed at least through the weekend, and at least 50 houses have been reported damaged, as well as a nursing home and several apartment buildings.

• At an early morning press conference, Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton estimated a death toll between five and 15 and said at least 160 were injured. That number is expected to grow as EMS teams go house to house searching methodically for residents.

• Several firefighters have been confirmed dead, and one law enforcement official is unaccounted for.

• At this time, the explosion is still being treated as a crime scene, but there is no evidence yet of foul play. That said, many couldn't help but notice the proximity to the 66th anniversary of the Texas City disaster, in which another fertilizer explosion left 581 dead.

Another briefing is scheduled for 10am. We'll post updates to this page as we receive them. Meanwhile, if you're looking for ways to help, blood donation centers are open and you can donate money to the Central Texas Red Cross.

UPDATE 1: The Waco Tribune Herald has a list of resources for those in the area wanting to help. Extraco Banks is also collecting cash donations at their branches. Checks made out to the American Red Cross can be sent care of Extraco at P.O. Box 6101, Temple, TX 76501. The bank asks that donors note "West" on the check's memo line.

UPDATE 2: The Czech Stop is open for business and serving breakfast to first responders.

UPDATE 3: USA Today reports that as many as 30 are now feared dead in the accident, and the plant faced federal citations in 2006 for environmental violations – including having no written maintenance program.

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