West, TX Plant Explosion Update; Search Continues for Missing People

Per Sgt. William Patrick Swanton, the explosion at West Fertilizer Co. near Waco, Texas—which, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, triggered a 2.1 magnitude earthquake—is estimated to have injured more than 160 people, with fatalities being estimated to fall between five and fifteen people. There is an unknown number of people who are trapped from the rubble. "I ask for your prayers," said Mayor Tommy Muska. "Search and rescue teams have been working through the night."

Search & Rescue Teams Look for Trapped People

Search and rescue teams have worked throughout the night trying to locate people who may be trapped in the countless homes and buildings that were leveled following the explosion. Swanton gave a briefing just before 8 a.m. this morning stating that there is an unknown number of people who may be trapped inside the rubble. The process is slow and methodical—especially due to the fact that the explosion left many of the buildings structurally unsound and must be reinforced first.

"We're using every available resource we have to do that correct so we don't miss anything or anyone," said Swanton. "It is tedious; it is time consuming; it is a very methodical process they are doing."

According to reports, the teams are still in search and rescue mode—not recovery—and are doing everything that they can to locate the missing people, including looking in closets and under beds. West Mayor Tommy Muska said at 6:30 a.m. ET that all residents of the nearby nursing home have been accounted for.

About thirty minutes before the incident, volunteer firefighters had been called to respond to a fire at the plant. Swanton has reported that there are currently three to four firefighters who are missing, but there has not been any update on whether or not any police or EMS are missing. Earlier today, one firefighter who was previously considered missing was found at a local hospital. Two of the emergency responders at the plant are believed to be among those killed in the tragic incident.

Visit American Red Cross' Safe & Well to let others know you're safe, or to check for a loved one's name.

Hospitals Treat 100+ Victims of Explosion & Fire

Early reports are stating that more than 160 people have suffered injuries from the explosion. At three this morning, ABC News confirmed that nearly 180 people had been hospitalized, with most of them being taken to Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, Providence Healthcare Network, Parkland Hospital and Scott & White Memorial.

According to these early reports:

  • Parkland Hospital in Dallas is treating nine burn victims in critical condition.
  • Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center reported that they received more than 100 patients, most of whom suffered lacerations, orthopedic and burn injuries. A dozen of their patients required surgery.
  • Providence Healthcare Network reported that they had treated more than 65 patients. A dozen of these patients had broken & fractured bones, burn injuries, and head injuries.
  • Scott & White Memorial received four patients with one en route at press time. Two were in critical condition.

WFAA has compiled a list of helpful contact information if you are looking for family members or loved ones. You can always check out the Safe & Well site, or you could call on to check on patients who had been admitted to local hospitals.

Helpful Contact Information:

  • Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center: (254) 202-1100
  • Providence Health Center: (254) 761-7200
  • Scott & White Hospital: (888) 394-4947

Explosion Leaves Severe Property Damage

Property damage is immense in the area. Swanton reported that somewhere in the vicinity of 50 to 75 homes were severely damaged—some completely leveled. A nearby apartment complex was also left as "just a skeleton." Initial reports are stating that every building within a four-block radius of the plant was damaged, with the small town of 2,800 people looking like what many people are calling a war zone. Following the accident there were at least 10 different structures which were on fire.

"It ranges from broken windows to complete devastation," said Swanton. "There are homes that are no longer homes…walls were ripped off, roofs were peeled back."

New York Daily News is reporting that all 2,800 residents of West, Texas have been evacuated. Those who have been evacuated are being taken to an Abbott community center; several other businesses and homes have also opened their doors for people looking for somewhere to stay, as well as a place to keep pets.

West Fertilizer Co. Investigated in 2006

This is not the first time that West Fertilizer Co. has come into the media spotlight. In June of 2006, the plant—which actually is only used as a fertilizer chemical storage facility, not as a manufacturing plant—was investigated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality after complaints were lodged about the strong scent of ammonia. The person who filed the complaint stated that the smell was "very bad." The plant was also cited for failing to obtain or to qualify for a permit in 2006.

Continued Safety Concerns: Exposure to Ammonia

One growing concern is the ammonia exposure that many people are vulnerable to in the aftermath of the blast. Ammonia is one of the key ingredients in the manufacturing of fertilizer; however, it is also highly toxic and often used as an oxidizing agent in explosive devises. According to ABC Chief Health and Medical Editor, Dr. Richard Besser, this exposure to ammonia is a continuing danger for those around the West, Texas plant.

"What you see with high level ammonia exposure is damage to your eyes, to your throat, to your nose, to your esophagus when you swallow," said Besser.

According to the New York State Department of Health, ammonia is lighter than air and typically rises; however, in cases where moisture is present, it can lead to liquefied anhydrous ammonia gas form vapors which are heavier and settler into low-lying areas. Regardless, ammonia exposure is dangerous. As an irritant, it can lead to immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. It can also lead to skin and eye irritation. In severe cases, it can cause permanent eye damage or blindness.

Looking for help? Contact Arnold & Itkin LLP.

At Arnold & Itkin, our hearts go out to those who were affected by the tragic plant explosion last night in West, Texas. As seasoned litigators, we have seen the kind of damage industrial accidents such as these can cause and we are committed to helping families in every way that we can. For example, we helped to represent many of those who were injured in the tragic BP Texas City explosion in 2005. If you have legal questions, or if you would like to discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury lawyer, we encourage you to contact our firm. We will continue to keep the town of West in our prayers.

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