A fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas—a small town of roughly 2,800 residents just north of Waco—injuring hundreds Wednesday evening. UPDATE: A police spokesman estimated casualties between five and 15. (Initial reports had the figure as high as 70.)
Local firefighters were called in at around 6:30pm local time to combat a fire at West Fertilizer Co. The plant, which contained as much as 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, exploded an hour and a half later. The explosion could be heard as far as Waxahachie, roughly 45 minutes away from the north central Texas town, a beloved highway pitstop known for its kolaches and hospitality.
Raw footage of the blast was uploaded to YouTube by user zidyboby earlier tonight. Filmed from a vehicle parked at a considerable distance from the plant, the clip captures the catastrophic impact of the explosion. In it, a small boy boy is heard pleading repeatedly, “Please, let’s get out of here,” fearful for his life.
Local news outlets are reporting that the chemical detonation leveled buildings in a four-block radius, destroying roughly 50 to 75 houses. The United States Geological Survey reported the explosion registered a magnitude of 2.1 on the Richter scale.
West Mayor Tommy Muska, who is also a volunteer firefighter, said he expected many casualties.
"We've got a lot of people who are hurt, and there's a lot of people, I'm sure, who aren't gonna be here tomorrow," Muska said. "We're gonna search for everybody. We're gonna make sure everybody's accounted for. That's the most important thing right now."
Glenn Robinson, the chief executive of local Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, confirmed that close to 100 injured people were brought to his hospital. However, according to Texas Observer reporter Forrest Wilder, he would not verify the number of fatalities at his facility.
A triage center was set up at the local high school. It was moved to a baseball field, due to fears that the toxic fumes emanating from the explosions were spreading.
Mayor Muska confirmed that the main fire was under control as of 11pm, but he insisted that residents stay indoors due to the possibility of another explosion.
As was the case with the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday, the Internet quickly pounced into action.
Photo via @BhamUpdates/Twitter
On social news site Reddit, concerned user OverR used Google Maps to create an interactive overview of the affected area, noting where the incident occurred, where fires and natural gas leaks had been reported, and the resident search area. The redditor based his marking off “what I hear off the scanner” and made the map open to collaboration. It was continuously updated throughout the evening, as new details emerged.
Screengrab via Google Maps
And, as was the case Monday, a Google document has been circulating to provide refuge for the West residents who were forced to evacuate. As of this writing, 121 people have offered their temporary shelter, from as far away as Austin (100 miles away) and Houston (200 miles away).
Of course, with any online arrangement, people should express caution about sharing their personal information.
But as has already been proven once this week, in times of crisis, the Internet is ready and more than willing to lend a helping hand.
Photo via @DFWscanner/Twitter