By Rob Bradfield
Assistant City Editor
WEST, TEXAS – Fatalities as a result of the explosion in West are confirmed, but a number is not yet known.
At a press conference held just after midnight, D. L. Wilson, Public Information Officer for the Texas State Troopers, confirmed that there had been fatalities but would not confirm a number. When asked on a previously reported death count of 60 to 70, Wilson declined to comment. Wilson did confirm a large number of injuries.
“Right now we have a tremendous amount of injuries, over a hundred at this time,” Wilson said.
The explosion originated at West Fertilizer plant Wednesday.
It may have been caused when a fire at the plant outside of the small Czech community ignited anhydrous ammonia, which exploded, severely damaging several nearby buildings including a nursing home, between 50 and 70 houses, West Intermediate School and an apartment complex that Wilson described as “skeletal”.
“It was just like Iraq, just like the Murrah building in Oklahoma City,” Wilson said.
As far away as downtown West, buildings received damage and broken glass littered the streets. The explosion registered at 2.1 on the Richter Scale, which monitors seismic activity to measure the strength of earthquakes.
The injured were originally taken to a triage center at the West High School football field. There, ambulances were loading residents evacuated from the blast area — some seriously injured — and moving them to various hospitals. The surrounding roads were filled with fire trucks and emergency vehicles from communities across the area on their way to the blast site.
At the football field, the air was heavy with fumes from the fire, the smoke from which could be seen rising over the trees. Eventually the wounded and medical personnel were evacuated to the West Community Center. From there the injured were loaded into buses and ambulances or airlifted to area hospitals.
The injured were taken to Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, Providence Hospital and several other area hospitals. At last report, 44 of those are in serious condition.
At the latest press conference, Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center CEO Glenn Robinson reported there were no fatalities at Hillcrest. In the press conference, Robinson said Hillcrest saw over 100 patients. Only 14 of those patients are in critical condition and are expected to remain in the hospital. The emergency room was handled with the help of between 250 and 300 additional staff members who responded to the need for more assistance. Close family members can call (254) 202 – 1100 for information.
At the time of publication, the fire at the plant was still smoldering and Wilson said it will likely continue to smolder until the fire dies down.
“Right now we can’t get firefighters in,” Wilson said.
While a large portion of the city has already been evacuated and is not in danger should a secondary explosion occur, officials are preparing for another evacuation when the cold front hits later tonight.
“When that north wind changes we’re going to have to evacuate another side of town,” Wilson said.
Caroline Brewton contributed to this article.