The mayor of the small Texas city north of Waco devastated by an explosion at a fertilizer plant said that 35 to 40 people were unaccounted for.
West, Texas, Mayor Tommy Muska gave that estimate to ABC News as search and rescue teams continued to look for survivors and missing people amid flattened and devastated buildings near the scene of Wednesday evening’s explosion.
Volunteer firefighters battling a blaze at the plant that preceded the blast were among the missing.
The fire and explosion just before 8 p.m. Wednesday at the West Fertilizer Plant in West, Texas, prompted widespread evacuations and sent more than 160 injured people to hospitals.
Authorities this morning said they feared five to 15 people could be dead, but later said those figures were just an estimate.
“We have confirmed fatalities at this time. We don’t have the exact amount,” Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes said at a news conference this afternoon.
However, Dallas Fire-Rescue Captain Kenny Harris who was initially reported missing, was identified this evening as killed in the blast, according to a news release from the city of Dallas.
Harris was off duty at the time of the explosion and was not a volunteer firefighter, but responded as a helper. He was not believed to have been involved in any firefighting activity, according to the statement.
“Capt. Harris’ response is typical of all our first responders; night and day, no matter where they are, no matter if they are on or off duty they respond with the greatest acts of bravery,” Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm said in a statement. “The city of Dallas and the citizens of Dallas have lost a real role model.”
The explosion devastated the area that officials described as a highly-populated neighborhood.
“It ranges from broken windows to complete devastation,” Waco Police Department Sgt. William Swanton said at a news conference today. “There are homes that are no longer homes.”
At some buildings, “walls were ripped off, roofs were peeled back,” the sergeant said.
“The apartment complex [near the plant] looks like it was a bombing site of an explosion — the kind that you seen in Baghdad,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot told reporters this evening. “It was utterly destroyed.”
State Trooper D.L. Wilson of the Texas Department of Public Safety described the initial fertilizer plant blast as “massive — just like Iraq, just like the Murray Building in Oklahoma City. The same kind of hydrous [ammonia] exploded, so you can imagine what kind of damage we’re looking at.”
Swanton said authorities were still in search-and-rescue mode and are not yet in recovery mode.
“The town is secure. There are plenty of law enforcement officials that are stationed around the town,” Swanton said. “There is no fire out of control. There is no chemical escape from the fertilizer plant that is out of control.”
However, as they prepared to investigate the explosion site, officials said they were treating it as a crime scene.
“We are not indicating that it is a crime, but we don’t know,” Swanton said. “What that means to us is that until we know that it is an industrial accident, we will work it as a crime scene. ATF [the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] is conducting the main investigation.”