‘Methodical' search, rescue effort after blast at Texas plant

Nick Dean,Deanna BoydFort Worth Star-Telegram,Alex Branch
This aerial photo taken Thursday, April 18, 2013 shows the remains of a fertilizer plant and an apartment complex to the left destroyed by an explosion in West, Texas, on Wednesday. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
Tony Gutierrez
Mangled metal and crushed vehicles are all that remain at the blast site of the fertilizer company, Thursday, April 18, 2013 in West, Texas.
Paul Moseley
Brent Bridges speaks with concern on Thursday April 18, 2013 about his father, Morris Bridges, who was a first responder with the West, Texas volunteer fire department after the fertilizer explosion last night. The fire fighter is so far among the missing.
Ron T. Ennis
A tattered U.S. flag flies on Main Street in West, Texas on Thursday April 18, 2013 after the fertilizer plant explosion.
Ron T. Ennis
Homes in the neighborhood about 1/4 mile west of the blast site show damage from the blast after the Wednesday fertilizer plant explosion Thursday, April 18, 2013 in West, Texas.
Paul Moseley
Homes in the neighborhood about 1/4 mile west of the blast site show damage from the Wednesday fertilizer plant explosion on Thursday, April 18, 2013 in West, Texas.
Paul Moseley
Firefighters conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
In this Instagram photo provided by Andy Bartee, a plume of smoke rises from a fertilizer plant fire in West, Texas on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting high into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin and causing major damage to surrounding buildings.
Andy Bartee
Emergency workers assist an elderly person at a staging area at a local school stadium Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant near Waco sent flames shooting high into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin, causing major damage at nearby buildings and injuring numerous people.
Rod Aydelotte
A person looks on as emergency workers fight a house fire after a nearby fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction.
Rod Aydelotte
This aerial photo shows a local school, at rear, and an apartment complex, at middle right, near a fertilizer plant explosion site Thursday, April 18, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
Tony Gutierrez
Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
A firefighter stands on a rail line and surveys the remains of a fertilizer plant destroyed by an explosion in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighters use flashlights early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013 to search a destroyed apartment complex near a fertilizer plant that exploded Wednesday night in West, Texas. The massive explosion killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, shaking the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and leveling homes and businesses for blocks in every direction.
LM Otero
Firefighters search an area destroyed by a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013.
LM Otero
Firefighters conduct a search and rescue of an apartment building destroyed Wednesday by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. The massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
The remains of a home burn early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013, after a fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday night in West, Texas. The massive explosion killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, shaking the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and leveling homes and businesses for blocks in every direction.
LM Otero
This video image provided by WFAA-TV shows injured people being treated on the flood-lit the high school football field turned into a staging area after the blast in West Texas Wednesday April 17, 2013.
WFAA-TV
An elderly person is assisted at a staging area at a local school stadium following an explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco caused numerous injuries and sent flames shooting high into the night sky on Wednesday.
Rod Aydelotte
In this Wednesday, April 17, 2013, photo provided by Joe Berti, a plume of smoke rises from a fertilizer plant fire near Waco, Texas. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said Thursday morning.
Joe Berti
The front of an apartment complex is destroyed by an explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct a search and rescue operation at an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
A firefighter walks amid an apartment complex destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct a search and rescue operation at an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
The shattered display windows are cleared away at the Treasure on the Tracks in the central business district of West, Texas on Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
Ron T. Ennis
Merchandise and smashed glass are scattered in the front windows of the West Thrift Shop in West, Texas on Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
Paul Moseley
Shown are the remains of a fertilizer plant destroyed by an explosion in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
The remains of a fertilizer plant sits destroyed after an explosion in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
The remains of a fertilizer plant sits destroyed after an explosion in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Baylor University students hold a candle light vigil outside Waco Hall for the victim's of the West fertilizer plant explosion, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Jerry Larson
Baylor University students hold a candle light vigil outside Waco Hall for the victim's of the West fertilizer plant explosion, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Jerry Larson
A victim from the West fertilizer plant explosion is wheeled into Hillcrest Baptist Medical Hospital in Waco, Texas, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Jerry Larson
An unidentified man injured by the West fertilizer plant explosion is treated by nurses from Hillcrest Baptist Medical Hospital in Waco, Texas, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Jerry Larson
A fire burns in a apartment complex destroyed near a fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo made early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013.
LM Otero
A fire still burns in a apartment complex destroyed near a fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo made early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013.
LM Otero
Firefighters check a destroyed apartment complex near the fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo made early Thursday, April 18, 2013.
LM Otero
Firefighters set a brace to hold up a sagging beam during a search and rescue operation at an apartment complex destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
LM Otero
Rescue workers work near a damaged apartment complex after a nearby fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction.
Rod Aydelotte
A fire burns at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas after an explosion Wednesday April 17, 2013.
Michael Ainsworth
A fire burns at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas after an explosion Wednesday April 17, 2013.
Michael Ainsworth
An injured elderly person is assisted by two young males as a nursing home is evacuated after an explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas.
Rod Aydelotte
A person looks on as emergency workers fight a house fire after a near by fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas.
Rod Aydelotte
Emergency workers evacuate elderly from a damaged nursing home following an explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco caused numerous injuries and sent flames shooting high into the night sky on Wednesday.
Rod Aydelotte
A fertilizer plant that exploded still smolders in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
Ralph Lauer
Firefighter toss debris from an apartment during search and rescue operation after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighters conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
The front of an apartment complex is destroyed after an explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
LM Otero
The remains of the the fertilizer plant smolder in the rain on Thursday, April 18, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
Tony Gutierrez
The remains of the the fertilizer plant smolder in the rain on Thursday, April 18, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
Tony Gutierrez
Shown is the front of an apartment complex destroyed by an explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
LM Otero
Curtains flies out of a wind broken by a fertilizer plant explosion well over a mile away from the home in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
Ralph Lauer
This aerial photo taken Thursday, April 18, 2013 shows the remains of a fertilizer plant and an apartment complex to the left destroyed by an explosion in West, Texas, on Wednesday. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
Tony Gutierrez
Mangled metal and crushed vehicles are all that remain at the blast site of the fertilizer company, Thursday, April 18, 2013 in West, Texas.
Paul Moseley
Brent Bridges speaks with concern on Thursday April 18, 2013 about his father, Morris Bridges, who was a first responder with the West, Texas volunteer fire department after the fertilizer explosion last night. The fire fighter is so far among the missing.
Ron T. Ennis
A tattered U.S. flag flies on Main Street in West, Texas on Thursday April 18, 2013 after the fertilizer plant explosion.
Ron T. Ennis
Homes in the neighborhood about 1/4 mile west of the blast site show damage from the blast after the Wednesday fertilizer plant explosion Thursday, April 18, 2013 in West, Texas.
Paul Moseley
Homes in the neighborhood about 1/4 mile west of the blast site show damage from the Wednesday fertilizer plant explosion on Thursday, April 18, 2013 in West, Texas.
Paul Moseley
Firefighters conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
In this Instagram photo provided by Andy Bartee, a plume of smoke rises from a fertilizer plant fire in West, Texas on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting high into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin and causing major damage to surrounding buildings.
Andy Bartee
Emergency workers assist an elderly person at a staging area at a local school stadium Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant near Waco sent flames shooting high into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin, causing major damage at nearby buildings and injuring numerous people.
Rod Aydelotte
A person looks on as emergency workers fight a house fire after a nearby fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction.
Rod Aydelotte
This aerial photo shows a local school, at rear, and an apartment complex, at middle right, near a fertilizer plant explosion site Thursday, April 18, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
Tony Gutierrez
Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
A firefighter stands on a rail line and surveys the remains of a fertilizer plant destroyed by an explosion in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighters use flashlights early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013 to search a destroyed apartment complex near a fertilizer plant that exploded Wednesday night in West, Texas. The massive explosion killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, shaking the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and leveling homes and businesses for blocks in every direction.
LM Otero
Firefighters search an area destroyed by a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013.
LM Otero
Firefighters conduct a search and rescue of an apartment building destroyed Wednesday by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. The massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
The remains of a home burn early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013, after a fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday night in West, Texas. The massive explosion killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, shaking the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and leveling homes and businesses for blocks in every direction.
LM Otero
This video image provided by WFAA-TV shows injured people being treated on the flood-lit the high school football field turned into a staging area after the blast in West Texas Wednesday April 17, 2013.
WFAA-TV
An elderly person is assisted at a staging area at a local school stadium following an explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco caused numerous injuries and sent flames shooting high into the night sky on Wednesday.
Rod Aydelotte
In this Wednesday, April 17, 2013, photo provided by Joe Berti, a plume of smoke rises from a fertilizer plant fire near Waco, Texas. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said Thursday morning.
Joe Berti
The front of an apartment complex is destroyed by an explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct a search and rescue operation at an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
A firefighter walks amid an apartment complex destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct a search and rescue operation at an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
The shattered display windows are cleared away at the Treasure on the Tracks in the central business district of West, Texas on Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
Ron T. Ennis
Merchandise and smashed glass are scattered in the front windows of the West Thrift Shop in West, Texas on Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
Paul Moseley
Shown are the remains of a fertilizer plant destroyed by an explosion in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
The remains of a fertilizer plant sits destroyed after an explosion in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
The remains of a fertilizer plant sits destroyed after an explosion in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.
LM Otero
Baylor University students hold a candle light vigil outside Waco Hall for the victim's of the West fertilizer plant explosion, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Jerry Larson
Baylor University students hold a candle light vigil outside Waco Hall for the victim's of the West fertilizer plant explosion, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Jerry Larson
A victim from the West fertilizer plant explosion is wheeled into Hillcrest Baptist Medical Hospital in Waco, Texas, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Jerry Larson
An unidentified man injured by the West fertilizer plant explosion is treated by nurses from Hillcrest Baptist Medical Hospital in Waco, Texas, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Jerry Larson
A fire burns in a apartment complex destroyed near a fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo made early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013.
LM Otero
A fire still burns in a apartment complex destroyed near a fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo made early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013.
LM Otero
Firefighters check a destroyed apartment complex near the fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo made early Thursday, April 18, 2013.
LM Otero
Firefighters set a brace to hold up a sagging beam during a search and rescue operation at an apartment complex destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. The explosion that struck around 8 p.m. Wednesday, sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.
LM Otero
Rescue workers work near a damaged apartment complex after a nearby fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction.
Rod Aydelotte
A fire burns at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas after an explosion Wednesday April 17, 2013.
Michael Ainsworth
A fire burns at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas after an explosion Wednesday April 17, 2013.
Michael Ainsworth
An injured elderly person is assisted by two young males as a nursing home is evacuated after an explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas.
Rod Aydelotte
A person looks on as emergency workers fight a house fire after a near by fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas.
Rod Aydelotte
Emergency workers evacuate elderly from a damaged nursing home following an explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco caused numerous injuries and sent flames shooting high into the night sky on Wednesday.
Rod Aydelotte

WEST, Texas -- Search and rescue teams from across Texas were "methodically" searching heavily damaged buildings for survivors Thursday morning, 15 hours after a powerful blast at a fertilizer plant in the small central Texas town of West.

The fatality count stood at "five to 15" at first light, but was expected to rise, officials said. More than 160 people in the town of about 2,800 were injured in the blast, which registered 2.1 on the earthquake scale.

Gary Adair, son of the plant's owner, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the plant, the decades-old West Fertilizer Co., had been closed for about three hours when the explosion occurred. He said the family had no idea what prompted the fire and explosion.

Several of the volunteer firefighters who had responded to the initial fire remained unaccounted for Thursday, Swanton said.

There is "a significant area around the fertilizer plant that has been destroyed. Homes have been destroyed. There are homes flattened. Part of that community is gone," he said.

Swanton said Texas Task Forces 1 and 2, the Burleson Fire Department heavy rescue unit and Fort Hood search and rescue workers were "methodically" searching house to house for survivors.

Some structures, including a 15-unit apartment building, had to be reinforced before they could safely enter, he said.

Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were in West assisting with the investigation, Swanton said.

He said the firefighters and the injured constable were at the scene fighting a fire when the plant exploded Wednesday night.

"There are true heroes out there today," Swanton said. "And they are civilians saving lives with us."

Adair, the owner's son, said he rushed to the plant after seeing the explosion Wednesday. It had obviously been leveled, he said.

He and his 6-year-old grandson then headed to the town's community center, where some of the injured were being taken.

He helped load up those injured in the blast as they arrived in cars and in the back of pickups. They were mostly residents from a nearby nursing home that had been severely damaged.

He arrived home about 4 a.m. He said he was with his father, who was too distraught to talk.

"Everybody in town basically knows everybody," Adair said, his words dissolving into sobs. "It's really rough. It's a tragedy."

Though he awaits confirmation like the rest of the town, Adair said he had a pretty good idea of who are among the dead.

"There are people you know just like a brother," he said.

A fire broke out at the plant at 7:29 p.m. and the West Fire Department responded. As they fought the fire, the plant exploded. Swanton said the first call about the explosion was logged at 7:53 p.m.

West Mayor Tommy Muska said 50-60 homes were damaged in a five-block radius of the blast.

Ricky Adams was driving to a Knights of the Columbus meeting and was only about a block from the plant when it exploded.

"It sucked the ceiling down over my head, threw me into the dashboard and shattered the back window," he said. "I never felt anything like it in my life."

His mother-in-law and her sister share at room at the nursing home that was damaged in the blast, he said. His mother-in-law was OK, but her sister was injured and was in the intensive care unit at the hospital.

"We're not sure how she is doing right now," he said.

Residents who were evacuated from their homes waited for information from authorities on what, if anything, was left standing.

Misty Kaska and her husband, Brian, and 1-year-old daughter live in a home about 100 yards from the plant. They were in Waco when they got word that the plant was burning and asked her brother to go check the home.

The plant exploded while he was on the way.

"He did see the house crumble and catch on fire," she said. "It was just rolling black smoke."

Thursday morning, family members helped load up Kaska's pickup with paper towels, food and other supplies.

"All of our belongings, all of the pictures of our daughter from this past year -- gone. My wedding ring is gone," she said. "We lost it all."

Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center CEO Glenn Robinson said early Thursday that the center had treated more than 100 of those injured and no deaths have occurred at Hillcrest.

Robinson said 14 of the hospital's cases were considered serious and may require admission to the hospital.

Two cases were sent to a specialized pediatric unit at McLane Children's Hospital in Temple. There were blast injuries, orthopedic injuries, large wounds, and a lot of lacerations and cuts, Robinson said.

The hospital heard of the explosion at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Robinson said. At 8:02 p.m., Hillcrest went to 'code green' status, calling all off-duty workers back in. The hospital received its first patient from the scene at 8:15 p.m. The hospital ceased its 'code green' status at 3:30 a.m. Thursday.

More than 60 victims were seen at Providence hospital in Waco, too.

Three patients, two women and one man ranging in age from 80 to 90, were taken to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, a spokeswoman said. Two were believed to be from the nearby nursing home. All were in critical condition.

People were first treated for injuries on the floodlit high school football field in West until the second tank in the fertilizer plant was recognized as a hazard. After that, people were told to evacuate the area immediately.

Air quality is no longer a concern, Swanton said. "There is no threat to safety from the smoke of the fire," he said.

The scene of the explosion is being treated as a crime scene until investigators are able to enter the plant.

"I have no indication that this was anything other than industrial fire. It is better to treat it as a crime scene and then call it a industrial fire later," Swanton said. "We always start out looking at the worst scenario."

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been called in to investigate the explosion. The McLennan County Sheriff's Office will investigate deaths related to the explosion.

WHAT THEY SAW

DPS trooper D.L. Lewis said this is "an unbelievable tragedy," and likened the blast aftermath to Iraq or the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City after the 1996 bombing.

Emergency workers were searching door to door throughout the night for victims of the powerful blast, which was felt as far north as Arlington and sent a mushroom cloud high into the sky. Lewis said 75 to 100 homes had been damaged or destroyed in the town of fewer than 3,000 people.

"I saw homes burning. Some homes were leveled," Swanton said. "It was almost tornadic."

Muska, a volunteer firefighter, was on his way to the plant to fight the fire when the explosion occurred.

"(It) blew my hat off," he said. "(The plant) was fully engulfed in flames."

Buildings affected by the blast include a nursing home with about 130 residents, he said.

"We need your prayers. There's a lot of people that I'm sure are not going to be here tomorrow," Muska said at an 11 p.m. news conference.

Perry said state officials were waiting for details about the extent of the damage.

"We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident," Perry said in a statement.

"We have also mobilized state resources to help local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West, and the first responders on the scene."

West's kolache bakeries are a popular stop on Interstate 35. Several injured people came to the Czech Stop bakery, said Barbara Schissler, president of the store.

"There have been many injuries," she said by phone.

"It's just crazy here. Like a war zone."

As she talked, emergency sirens could be heard continuously in the background.

Beverly Nunley, the Czech Stop's store manager, said the blast was so powerful that it rattled the walls, which knocked signs and framed pictures of celebrities to the floor.

"We've been told to shut our gas pumps off," Nunley said

West, in McLennan County, is 68 miles south of Fort Worth.

 

 


By NICK DEAN, DEANNA BOYD and ALEX BRANCH
Fort Worth Star-Telegram