An explosion at a fertilizer plant shook the residents of West, Texas on the evening of April 17, 2013. Just 20 minutes north of Waco is the West Texas Fertilizer Co. plant that now sits under a pile of rubble. Eyewitnesses report a large fire at the plant at about 7:30pm that quickly turned into a massive explosion. After more than 24-hours of search and rescue, some reports are indicated as many as 35 killed, possibly upwards of 40 missing and over 160 injured.
There are only approximately 2,600 residents of West, so an accident of this magnitude is enough to thoroughly shake the community. Police stated that houses, apartment complexes and even a nursing home all located in the nearby vicinity of the plant were completely leveled due to the blast. Those who were not already injured or carried away are being asked to evacuate from their homes because officials have reason to believe that a second explosion could potentially occur.
It is unclear yet what caused the accident, but initial projections indicate that ammonium nitrate was a likely cause. Ammonia is commonly used in the production of fertilizer, and there were thousands of pounds of it being stored at this West facility. Ammonia is not incredibly dangerous when in its gaseous form, but becomes a potential explosive when under pressure or heat.
This is not the first time that there has been a safety concern over this fertilizer plant. While an accident of this magnitude has never yet occurred at this location, in 2006 the plant was cited for failure to have a risk-management plan in place. After paying the $2,300 fine, the plant vowed to correct their violation. Seven years later, the plant exploded.
Interestingly enough, a Dallas newspaper got a hold of a document that was sent from the West Texas Fertilizer Co. to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The document stated that there was no risk of fire or explosion at this plant. In its own words, the plant operator said that the worse thing that could happen would be a 10-minute ammonia leak, which would injure or kill no one. Unfortunately, their projections were wrong.
Among those injured by the blast are plant workers, residents, first responders and search & rescue teams. Reports state that people miles away from the explosion could hear and feel its impact. According to USGS, the explosion could be equated to a 2.1 magnitude earthquake. Some homes as far as five blocks away were seriously damaged and many were completely destroyed. Search and rescue teams have been digging through the rubble to find survivors, but officials are stating that they too might be at risk of injury due exposure to anhydrous ammonia.
Stern Law Group's hearts go out to the victims of this explosion.