A deadly chemical explosion caused by a fire at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, north of Waco, left about 200 injured and an unconfirmed number deceased. Some news outlets are reporting as many as 50 dead and others as few as five.
Crews from all over the state have been working tirelessly to make sense of the chaotic scene. Texas Gov. Rick Perry described it in a press conference as “truly a nightmare scenario.”
In Amarillo, equipment measured the strength of the resulting jolt from the explosion as having the strength of a 2.5 earthquake on the Richter scale.
The event has garnered national and international attention. Pope Francis even tweeted about the tragedy saying, “Please join me in praying for the victims of the explosion in Texas and their families.”
President Barack Obama asked for a moment of silence in Congress this morning. In the midst of the tragedy, people have mobilized to help their neighbors.
Assistant Professor and Lab Coordinator Kelda McMullen-Fix teaches nursing at UMHB and is an RN at the emergency department at Hillcrest Hospital in Waco. She was called into work last night as injured people started streaming into the emergency room from West.
“I was out in the triage bay area where the ambulances were coming in and also private vehicles with injured people,” she said.
McMullen-Fix was working with patients who were not seriously injured and could wait for a few moments to be placed in a hospital room.
She said more than 100 people were taken to Hillcrest following the explosion.
“There was a regular stream of ambulances and a pretty steady stream of cars,” McMullen-Fix said. “But there weren’t ambulances waiting one after another …. It was well organized, plenty of help. There were outstanding numbers of people who responded to come and help … people brought water … I think they bought Wal-Mart out of water.”
Citizens of the Central Texas area and neighboring regions responded quickly to needs of those affected.
This morning Bush’s Chicken offered to feed first responders. Last night, the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler sent teams to assist in the rescue efforts. Many other businesses have donated goods to residents and first responders.
“It was really awesome to see that community wanting to help in that time,” McMullen-Fix said.
There have been many conflicting reports concerning the death toll. Because of this, Gov. Perry urges people to remember that all information at this point is “very preliminary.”
First responders are reported dead and missing. A final count of casualties and injuries is still in progress. Last night and this morning, crews went through the town ordering people to leave.
The strong cold front that has blown through the area raised concerns it might spread leaking ammonia, forcing the south side of West to be evacuated as well.
The mayor of West, Tommy Muska, is a firefighter and fought alongside his volunteer department. He is asking for prayers for the town.
Elissa Thompson and Jordan Yarborough contributed to this report.