(WEST, Texas) — Search and rescue teams in Texas are looking for survivors and missing people amid buildings where walls and roofs have been torn away and other buildings have been flattened by an explosion at a fertilizer plant. Firefighters are among the missing and authorities fear that five to 15 people could be dead.
“It ranges from broken windows to complete devastation,” Waco Police Department Sgt. William Swanton said at a news conference Thursday. “There are homes that are no longer homes.”
At some buildings, “walls were ripped off, roofs were peeled back,” the sergeant said.
The fire and explosion Wednesday night in a small town north of Waco prompted widespread evacuations and sent more than 160 injured people to hospitals.
The blast at the West Fertilizer Plant in West, Texas, occurred just before 8 p.m., but officials still were struggling to tally the dead and injured early Thursday morning and searching door-to-door amid the rubble for survivors, police said.
Authorities expressed concerns on Thursday about looting, but now say they believe what was initially reported to them was an isolated incident.
“I have confirmed at least there was an incident last night when they thought they may have had a looter,” Swanton said, adding that the incident occurred “very, very early in the scenario.”
He said there was no arrest and the problem is “not rampant,” but people are still being kept out of the main disaster area.
Swanton said the five to 15 deaths is a “rough number” and they are unverified.
“I don’t have a number of how many they have rescued or how many potential bodies they have found,” he said.
“There are still firefighters missing,” Swanton said.
He said an estimated three or four who are missing are volunteer firefighters, “meaning that they probably have a very large contingent of people that are willing to risk their lives for the neighbors and community.”
They are the first responders who were battling the fire when the explosion occurred, he said.
A firefighter and law enforcement officer who was previously mentioned as missing has been found, Swanton said. He is in a hospital with “pretty serious injuries,” he added.
Swanton said authorities are still in search-and-rescue mode and are not yet in recovery mode.
“The town is secure. There are plenty of law enforcement officials that are stationed around the town,” Swanton said. “There is no fire out of control. There is no chemical escape from the fertilizer plant that is out of control.”
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