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April 18, 2013

Texas ammonia-plant blast kills an estimated 5 to 15 people

DALLAS — An explosion at Adair Grain Inc.'s fertilizer facility in the town of West killed as many as 15 people and injured at least 160 in what may be the worst U.S. industrial disaster since the Texas refinery blast in 2005.

An estimated five to 15 people died following an explosion at 7:53 p.m. local time Wednesday, Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said Thursday at a news conference. A fire had broken out about 25 minutes earlier at the site about 80 miles south of Dallas.

"There are homes leveled, businesses leveled; there is massive devastation in the downtown West area," Swanton said. The authorities are searching house by house and the number of casualties may rise, he said.

Adair Grain's DBA West Fertilizer Co. is an anhydrous ammonia facility, Trooper D.L. Wilson, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a separate conference. Anhydrous ammonia, a liquid source of the fertilizer nitrogen, is applied directly by farmers to the soil to boost crop yields.

West Fertilizer said it stored as much as 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia at the site in an emergency planning report filed to the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Dallas Morning News.

While the site is being treated as a crime scene, there are no indications that the fire wasn't accidental, Swanton said, adding that the blaze is now under control. At least 160 injured people are being treated at the local hospital, he said.

The worst-hit areas appeared to be a nursing home and a 50- unit apartment building near the fertilizer plant, Swanton said at an earlier briefing. Local television station KWTX showed fires in the ruins of the plant and in surrounding buildings, and people being treated on a flood-lit sports field.

Amy Vaughan, a geophysicist at the U.S Geological Survey, said a magnitude 2.1-degree seismic event had been registered as the explosion occurred. The impact would have generated a shock wave, she said by phone from Golden, Colorado.

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