The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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April 18, 2013

UPDATE: Rescuers search ruins of Texas fertilizer plant

WEST, Texas — Rescuers searched the smoking remnants of a Texas farm town Thursday for survivors of a thunderous fertilizer plant explosion, gingerly checking smashed houses and apartments for anyone still trapped in debris or bodies of the dead. The accident killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160 others.

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.

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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.

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