Search and rescue teams from across the state were "methodically" searching heavily damaged buildings for survivors Thursday morning, some 15 hours after a powerful blast at a fertilizer plant in the small central Texas town of West.
The fatality count stood at "five to 15" at first light, but was expected to rise, officials said. More than 160 people in the town of about 2,800 were injured in the blast, which registered 2.1 on the earthquake scale.
The Texas Observer has an interesting take. It recalls that "Texas was home to the largest industrial disaster in American history—and it happened to involve fertilizer, the very thing at the core of the West explosion. In what most historians call The Texas City Disaster of 1947, several tons of ammonium-nitrate fertilizer blew up and set off a series of fires and eruptions that claimed close to 600 lives, injured 5,000, knocked planes out of the sky, and allegedly inspired a hard look by government officials at workplace regulations, and disaster preparedness (and response) in municipalities, counties and states around the nation."
The author says the same questions asked following Texas City will return concerning West: "Were officials in Texas City, in state government, in federal government, so eager for commerce, for jobs, that they endorsed the building of factories, plants and chemical wonderlands just a stone’s throw from homes, churches and even schools? Was all caution used? Did heavy industry—including extraordinarily dangerous fertilizer plants—show up in Texas because the state is so perpetually resistant to regulation?"
-- Bob Davis