A massive explosion ripped through a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas Wednesday night, injuring more than 180 and leaving many feared dead.
The death toll, while unconfirmed, has been estimated at 5-15 by news sources.
Authorities were bracing to find victims in collapsed buildings, which rescuers could not approach due to the flames and dangerous chemicals.
The West, Texas explosion happened about 8 p.m. in the town town of 2,800 about 20 miles north of Waco. It was unclear what had triggered it.
Mayor Tommy Muska, a volunteer firefighter, said he was responding to the blaze and was two blocks away from the plant when it exploded.
"I’ve just never seen an explosion like that. It was just a ball of fire," he said. "It looked like a nuclear bomb went off; it was just a big old mushroom cloud."
D.L. Wilson, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at least 100 people had been injured and an unknown number of people were dead.
As many as 75 houses were damaged and a 50-unit apartment building looked like a "skeleton standing up," he said of the aftermath of the blast.
Making matters worse, a 133-person nursing home was near the explosion, and its residents had been evacuated to the community center.
"I searched some houses earlier tonight. Massive," Wilson said of the damage. "It’s just like Iraq; just like the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City."
The latter may be more accurate. Wilson likened the chemicals used in the 1995 Oklahoma City blast to the chemicals at the plant when it exploded.
The blaze went unfought for hours as firefighters focused on rescuing victims and survivors and as officials evacuated an eight- to 10-block area.
Our thoughts go out to the victims and their families.