Published Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 4:48 am / Updated at 2:30 am
Texas Gov. Perry calls fertilizer plant blast 'nightmare scenario'

Video of the explosion and an AP interactive

* * *

WEST, Texas — Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday called the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in his state "a truly nightmare scenario."

Authorities have said as many as 15 people are feared dead and more than 160 others were injured in the explosion that leveled homes and businesses in the farming community of West, Texas.

Perry emphasized during a press conference that much of the information about victims remains "very preliminary."

He said President Barack Obama had offered a quick turnaround of declaring McLennan County an emergency disaster that is eligible for federal aid.

Perry said at least 75 homes were damaged in the blast

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the explosion Wednesday night knocked people "all over the town" back 10 feet, including some through windows

Meanwhile, rescuers searched the smoking remnants of this Texas farm town Thursday for survivors of the thunderous fertilizer plant explosion, gingerly checking smashed houses and apartments for anyone still trapped in debris or bodies of the dead.

Daylight revealed a breathtaking band of destruction extending for a four- or five-block radius around the West Fertilizer Co. in the small community of West, about 20 miles north of Waco.

The blast shook the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and leveled homes, apartments, a school and a nursing home. Its dull boom could be heard dozens of miles away.

Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton described ongoing search-and-rescue efforts as “tedious and time-consuming,” noting crews had to shore up much of the wreckage before going in.

Searchers “have not gotten to the point of no return where they don't think that there's anybody still alive,” Swanton said. He did not know how many people had been rescued.

There was no indication the blast, which sent up a mushroom-shaped plume of smoke and left behind a crater, was anything other than an industrial accident, he said.

The Wednesday night explosion rained burning embers and debris down on terrified residents. Morning exposed a landscape wrapped in acrid smoke and strewn with the shattered remains of buildings, furniture and personal belongings.

Dogs with collars but no owners trotted nervously through deserted streets in cordoned-off neighborhoods around the decimated plant. The entire second floor of a nearby apartment complex was destroyed, leaving bricks and mattresses among the rubble. One rescue crew going from apartment to apartment gave special attention to a room where only a child's red and blue bunk bed remained.

While the community tended to its deep wounds, investigators awaited clearance to enter the blast zone for clues to what set off the plant's huge stockpile of volatile chemicals.

“It's still too hot to get in there,” said Franceska Perot, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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