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Thu April 18, 2013
Search And Rescue Ongoing After Texas Plant Explosion
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
We're learning more about last night's fire in the Texas town of West. The fire started in a fertilizer plant, and a father in a vehicle nearby was taking video of the flames when the plant exploded.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you OK?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You OK?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah. I can't hear.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Cover your ears.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I can't hear. Get out of here. Please get out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, my God.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Please get out of here.
INSKEEP: Officials report between five and 15 people were killed, more than 160 wounded.
NPR's John Burnett is on the scene of this story. He joins us now. Hi, John.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: What more have you been able to learn through this morning about what happened?
BURNETT: Well, essentially, the facts remain the same right now. It's just what's happening is that the town of West has woken up to what's going to be one of the biggest days in its history, and people are walking around in an absolute daze. We have a steady rain falling here now, a very cold, kind of unseasonably cold April rain, which is - the police say is actually helping their jobs. There - this fire was - and this explosion was so overwhelming, that it caught houses on fire throughout the neighborhood. And so this rain is helping to put them out now. And so that's - there are some people who are still evacuated from this five-block area, and they're hoping they'll be able to go back sometime later today.
They're still in a search-and-rescue mode, Steve. They're still going house-to-house - they're actually returning to some houses, looking in closets, looking under beds, looking more thoroughly to see if anyone is trapped or hiding there. And so that's the way things look.
INSKEEP: Wow. OK. So, now, there are people just waking up to this story, particularly on the West Coast. Let's walk through this, if we can, John Burnett. Based on what you've been able to learn, what happened when?
BURNETT: Well, apparently, the call came in that there was a fire at this - the West Fertilizer Plant, which has been here for years, at 7:30 last night. And this is a small city of fewer than 3,000. It doesn't have a fulltime fire department. So the volunteer firemen pulled on their uniforms and went out there to fight it, and then they realized that it was getting out of control, and that it was - because there dangerous chemicals under pressure, they needed to get people out of the neighborhood. So they started evacuating some apartments nearby and a nursing home nearby, and they were in the midst of that when this fireball went off, this great concussion, this conflagration went off that blew out windows and dented cars and flattened some houses.
But it was through the efforts of these valiant volunteer firemen that some of the lives of these elderly and these apartment dwellers were saved. We still three to five of these firemen who are missing and are - it's more pessimistic by the hour.
INSKEEP: Presumed dead. These are volunteer firemen who were at the scene of the fertilizer plant. And we should say, this is extremely explosive material. We're talking about giant tanks of ammonia, here, among other things. Right?
BURNETT: That's correct. They're under great pressure, and so, obviously, a fire underneath these tanks is going to cause pressure to build up even more. And so it becomes extraordinarily dangerous. It's very common. Anhydrous ammonia is a common agricultural chemical. We're in the middle of farm country here in Central Texas, so - but this is always considered to be a potentially dangerous chemical, especially if you get it in your eyes and your mucus membranes.
INSKEEP: John Burnett, we've just got a few seconds. Is the town of West, Texas getting all the help it needs?
BURNETT: It is. They're coming from all over, from surrounding towns, especially the churches have opened up shelters, there are (unintelligible). Restaurants are sending food. They're blood drawing at area hospitals, and law enforcement coming from every direction. So this is a close-knit community. A lot of people go to church, here. They all know each other. And so they're really helping each other in the hour of need.
INSKEEP: John, thanks very much.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's John Burnett. He is in West Texas, where a fertilizer plant explosion closed five to 15 people, injured more than 160. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.