The massive explosion Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas, killed an estimated 5 to 15 people, injured more than 160 others and devastated the town of West, officials said Thursday morning as they tried to piece together what happened.
There are fears that the death toll could be even higher.
West Mayor Tommy Muska, who warned Wednesday night that "there are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow," said at a brief news conference early Thursday morning that "I ask for your prayers." The mayor had earlier described the explosion as being "like a nuclear bomb ... [a] big old mushroom cloud." The force of the explosion was picked up by the U.S. Geological Survey's earthquake monitors — it was the equivalent of a 2.1 magnitude temblor.
The cause of the blast, which as we reported Wednesday night happened as local firefighters were battling a blaze at the plant, had not yet been determined. Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton told reporters Thursday morning, "We're not indicating it was a crime, but we don't know. ... Until we know that it was an industrial accident, we will work it as a crime scene."
NPR's John Burnett, who got to the area of the explosion early Thursday, tells our Newscast Desk, "I spoke to one woman. Her son was playing football at the middle school there and he was lifted up in the air by the force of the explosion. They said they could see glass and debris flying through the air like shrapnel. They said it was the most terrifying experience of their lives." Burnett also spoke to Morning Edition.
The explosion destroyed or damaged dozens of homes, businesses and a nursing home.
Erick Perez, 21, of West was using his cellphone to record the scene from a distance as firefighters tried to put out the blaze. The Associated Press has posted a copy of that video here.
We'll follow this story as the day continues and post updates.
Among other news outlets following the news closely:
-- Waco Tribune
Note: As happens when stories such as this are developing, there will likely be reports that turn out to be mistaken. We will focus on news being reported by NPR, other news outlets with expertise, and statements from authorities who are in a position to know what's going on. And if some of that information turns out to be wrong, we'll update.