(Photo courtesy of ABC News)
WEST, TX (ABC NEWS) - A fire and chemical explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant in a small town north of Waco sent at least 180 people to hospitals, flattened buildings, prompted widespread evacuations and left as many as five to 15 people feared dead.
The initial blast at the West Fertilizer Plant in West, Texas, occurred just before 8 p.m. Wednesday, but officials still were struggling to tally the dead and injured early this morning and searching door-to-door amid the rubble for survivors, Sgt. William Patrick Swanton of the Waco Police Department said.
Regarding the figure of five to 15 deaths, Swanton told reporters, "I know that's a rough estimate, but that's the best that I can give you."
West EMS Director Dr. George Smith, himself injured and bloody, said he had not personally seen bodies to confirm deaths, but believed the blast killed at least two emergency responders to a fire at the plant before the initial explosion and a person at a nearby apartment complex that suffered serious damage.
In addition, some responders to the fire were believed unaccounted for after the blast, according to Smith, Swanton and West Mayor Tommy Muska.
As they gained access to the explosion site, officials said they were treating it as a crime scene.
"We are not indicating that it is a crime, but we don't know," Swanton said. "What that means to us is that until we know that it is an industrial accident, we will work it as a crime scene. ATF [the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] is conducting the main investigation."
President Obama has been notified of the situation in Texas, an administration official told ABC News.
"The president has been notified. The administration is closely monitoring through FEMA who is also in contact with state and local officials who are responding," an official told ABC News in an email.