Part of West Neighborhood Decimated by Blast

Homes flattened, destroyed near fertilizer facility

A very powerful explosion at a fertilizer plant decimated a neighborhood in the small town of West Wednesday night, injuring more than 160 and killing as many as 15, officials say.

During a Thursday morning news conference, Sgt. William Patrick Swanton, with the Waco Police Department, said rescuers were still involved in a rescue operation and were conducting door-to-door searches looking for trapped people and other survivors who may need medical attention.

"They are still in, what they're calling, a search and rescue mode.  That's good news to me, meaning that they're probably still getting injured people; they have not gotten to the point of no return where they don't think there is anybody still alive," said Swanton.

Rescuers are being very thorough, Swanton said, and are taking their time with searches to make sure no one who needs help is overlooked.  Swanton described the process as hard and gut-wrenching.

He had no new estimates of the number of people injured or killed in the blast, though he did say that a significant area near the plant had been destroyed, houses had been flattened and that part of that community is gone.

Between 50 and 75 buildings have been damaged or destroyed by the blast, Swanton confirmed, including homes and business.

Swanton added that the fire at the facility is still smoldering, as are several other fires at homes near the blast site. None of the fires are out of control and thunderstorms pushing through the area are being credited with not only keeping the fires in check but with helping contain chemicals in the air.

"I can tell you there is nothing out of control there at this point, meaning there is no fire out of control, there is no chemical escape from the fertilizer plant that is out of control. They are working to contain everything that they have in that area and are doing a fantastic job in very harsh circumstances ... as you can imagine," Swanton said.

Gov. Rick Perry will hold a news conference at 11:45 a.m. in Austin where further information is expected to be released regarding a possible disaster declaration and recovery efforts.

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