A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas
, on Wednesday night left up to 15 people dead and more than 150 injued, but an emergency services official said a higher death toll might be expected.
The blast occurred about 50 miles from Waco in the small town of West at 8:30 p.m. and measured as a 2.1-magnitude seismic event at the West Fertilizer Co.
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The explosion leveled dozens of homes
and led to a forced evacuation of about half of the town's 2,800 residents, CNN reported.
Officials had not determined the cause of the explosion or the extent of the damage as they started the process of searching for missing people in houses near the plant.
"There are a lot of people that got hurt," West Mayor Tommy Muska said Wednesday night. "There are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow. It was a like a nuclear bomb went off. Big old mushroom cloud."
The facility is near an apartment complex, a nursing home, and a middle school, and the proximity could bring the death toll as high as 60 to 70, according to Dr. George Smith, West's emergency management system director.
"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."
The force of the explosion stripped the walls and windows of the apartment complex, according to D.L. Wilson of the Texas public safety department.
"It was just a skeleton standing up," Wilson said, comparing the destruction to a warzone in Iraq and the Murrah Federal Building destroyed in the Oklahoma City bombing of April, 1995.
All 133 residents of the nearby nursing home were immediately evacuated.
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West, located about 75 miles south of Dallas, is known as "the Czech point of central Texas," according to its chamber of commerce, due to the municipality's influx of Czech immigrants in the latter part of the 19th century.
Czech culture thrives in the small community, with businesses such as "Little Czech Bakery" and "The Czech Inn," CNN reported.
The city has turned off all gas during the investigation as a precaution. One fertilizer tank remains intact at the facility and could potentially explode.
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