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Explosion in West

Fertilizer plant blast shakes Texas town, Aggies mobilize support

Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013

Updated: Thursday, April 18, 2013 10:04

An explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas — 20 miles north of Waco — injured more than 100 people and killed an unconfirmed number Wednesday night, Department of Public Safety officials reported.

The blast occurred around 8 p.m., causing the destruction of an estimated 50-75 homes and businesses in a five-block radius. D.L. Wilson of the Department of Public Safety said a nursing home was reported to have burned down — though 133 were evacuated from the building — and two schools are damaged. An apartment building containing about 50 units was “gone,” though Wilson said officials’ focus is on the safe recovery of people, not buildings.

In a press conference Wednesday night, West Mayor Tommy Muska said there was no official count of people dead and injured. He requested community support and said six or seven firefighters and first responders have not been accounted for who were on the scene to combat the fire that resulted in the explosion.

"We need your prayers,” Muska said. “There's a lot of people that, I'm sure, are not going to be here tomorrow."

Just more than 100 miles from College Station, students from West — and their families — were directly affected by the explosion.

Kristina Fabian, junior civil engineering major, is from West. She said her family hasn’t been evacuated because her home is on the outskirts of the town. Her brother was in his car one mile away from the plant and said the explosion hurt his ears.

Fabian said she “thought it was just a fire” when she initially heard about the incident and said the plant is located in the heart of the community.

“That’s in the center of town — that’s where the majority of people live,” Fabian said. “I’m shocked.”

The 2010 U.S. census reported West has a population of 2,807.

“If over 100 people died, that’s a big fraction,” Fabian said.

West Fertilizer Co. is reported as having as much as 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer on hand. By comparison, Timothy McVeigh used 4,800 pounds of similar fertilizer in crafting the bomb that killed 168 in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Gov. Rick Perry released a statement shortly after the explosions that indicated state resources have been scrambled to aid West.

“We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident,” Perry said. “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.”

Red Cross volunteers from around the state were said to be converging on the area.

Aggieland Outfitters will conduct a drive to raise and deliver supplies beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday for those in the College Station area wishing to help.

Dallas Shipp, marketing coordinator for Aggieland Outfitters, said the company will station in the Post Oak Mall parking lot and will accept donations of toiletries, clothes, canned goods, diapers, blankets and other necessary supplies.

“Sitting here watching, it’s heartbreaking and we wanted to jump into action and do something to help, in any way we can,” Shipp said.

Shipp said those interested in volunteering can text “helpwest” to “99000” to be notified of volunteer opportunities in the area. Shipp said collected numbers would be deleted after the event has concluded and won’t be used in any future marketing efforts. 

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