On Wednesday evening, April 17, 2013, a major explosion took place after a fertilizer plant had caught fire in the town of West, Texas – about 20 miles north of Waco. Emergency crews from all over Central Texas responded to the devastating scene in the small town of roughly 2,600 people. Numerous injuries had been reported, and ambulances and helicopters had been dispatched to transport victims to hospitals in Waco.
Authorities stated that many of the injuries were the result of victims being hit by shrapnel and debris caused by the enormous explosion, which could be seen from miles away.
The explosion occurred shortly before 8:00 p.m. and it was reported that several buildings in the surrounding area were destroyed and a nursing home and nearby apartment complexes were damaged. The plant is located off Interstate 35 near West Middle School and West High School; the middle school caught on fire because of the blast and the high school football field has been set up as a triage center to assist injured victims.
People up to 40 miles away reported hearing what sounded like bombs exploding and felt the force of the blast. Subsequently, the surrounding community has been evacuated as a safety precaution. Emergency crews were pulling back from the scene for fears of a possible second explosion. As of late Wednesday night authorities were unsure of the total number of victims but believed hundreds had been injured and were estimating as many as 60 to 70 fatalities. Witnesses said the scene looked like a war zone.
The explosion at the West Fertilizer Co plant was a result of a fire that began in an anhydrous ammonia tank and then spread to the building. Anhydrous ammonia is a form of ammonia which is very toxic, flammable, and can become highly explosive when mixed with air. Anhydrous ammonia is commonly used in fertilizer for its low cost and production efficiency. Fertilizer is very toxic and can become highly explosive when mixed with other chemicals.
Unfortunately, devastating fires and explosions at industrial plants happen all too frequently. Arnold & Itkin has represented numerous folks who have been involved in disasters just like this one.
In recent years, there have been a number of similar explosions and accidents, including:
- In November 2012, a Garland, Texas plant owned by Nexeo Solutions, LLC exploded while the chemical methanol was being from a rail car, and a massive fire broke at as a result.
- In February 2011, the Agrium Fertilizer Plant in Hartsville, South Carolina caught fire and exploded. The fire burned through the night and completely destroyed the factory, which provided jobs for many in the small town.
- In March 2005, there was a fire and explosion at BP's Texas City Refinery in Texas City. This is the second largest oil refinery in the state and the third largest in the country. The accident killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 people.
- In January 2003, an industrial disaster occurred at the West Pharmaceutical Plant in Kinston, North Carolina when a chain of violent explosions ripped through the plant. As a result of the explosions 6 people were killed and 36 people were injured.
- In October 1989, a massive fire and a series of explosions tore through the Phillips 66 Company's Houston Chemical Complex in Pasadena, Texas. The blast registered 3.5 on the Richter Scale and the disaster killed 23 workers and injured 314 people.
Our team at Arnold & Itkin sends thoughts and prayers to the community of Waco and the victims of this terrible and devastating accident. Check back for updates on this story.