Rescuers search ruins of Texas fertilizer plant

Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 15:57 PM.

"The hotter it is, the faster the reaction will happen," Donahue said. "That really happens almost instantaneously, and that's what gives the tremendous force of the explosion."

About a half-hour before the blast, the town's volunteer firefighters had responded to a call at the plant, Swanton said. They immediately realized the potential for disaster because of the plant's chemical stockpile and began evacuating the surrounding area.

The blast happened 20 minutes later.

Erick Perez was playing basketball at a nearby school when the fire started. He and his friends thought nothing of it at first, but about a half-hour later, the smoke changed color. The blast threw him, his nephew and others to the ground and showered the area with hot embers, shrapnel and debris.

"The explosion was like nothing I've ever seen before," Perez said. "This town is hurt really bad."

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board was deploying a large investigation team to West. An ATF national response team that investigates all large fires and explosions was also expected, bringing fire investigators, certified explosives specialists, chemists, canines and forensic specialists. American Red Cross crews also headed to the scene to help evacuated residents.

There were no immediate details on the number of people who work at the plant, which state environmental regulators last inspected in 2006, said Zak Covar, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. A complaint about a strong ammonia smell triggered that investigation, which the company resolved by obtaining a new permit.



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