The full extent of the devastation will have to wait until the light of day Thursday. But residents of the small Texas town of West already know what to expect.
“There are a lot of people that got hurt,” West Mayor Tommy Muska forewarned Wednesday night. “There are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow.”
A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant on the edge of the town killed at least two people, wounded more than 150, leveled dozens of homes and prompted authorities to evacuate half their community of 2,800.
“It was a like a nuclear bomb went off,” Muska said. “Big old mushroom cloud.”
The Wednesday night blast shook houses 50 miles away and measured as a 2.1-magnitude seismic event, according to the United States Geological Survey.
“Fire officials fear that the number of casualties could rise as high as 60 to 70 dead, said Dr. George Smith, the emergency management system director of the city.
“That’s a really rough number, I’m getting that figure from firefighters, we don’t know yet,” he said. “We have two EMS personnel that are dead for sure, and there may be three firefighters that are dead.”
Early Thursday morning, firefighters painstakingly combed through houses, many reduced to rubble.
“(It’s) massive — just like Iraq. Just like the Murrah (Federal) Building in Oklahoma City,” said D.L. Wilson of the public safety department.
What caused the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. was not immediately known. But its location — next to an apartment complex, a nursing home and a middle school — did not help matters.