Fertilizer plant explodes in Texas

18 April 2013 Last updated at 18:03
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22204391

Texas Waco fertiliser plant blast search for survivors

Emergency services are searching for survivors after a blast at a fertiliser plant in the US state of Texas killed between five and 15 people.

More than 160 people were injured and dozens of buildings destroyed in the town of West, near Waco.

Three or four volunteer firefighters are among the missing after the explosion, which produced a tremor equivalent to a small earthquake.

Emergency services officials said ammonia may have caused the explosion.

There is no indication that the blast and a fire which preceded it were anything other than industrial accidents, police say.

However, the site is being treated as a crime scene and the death toll could rise, officials warn.

Texas state Governor Rick Perry said he was declaring the area a disaster and would request an emergency declaration for federal aid from US President Barack Obama.

He said President Obama had agreed to fast-track a declaration.

Air quality and gas pipelines were being monitored for safety, he said. and gas supplies had been disconnected until any risk had passed.
Homes destroyed

Footage shows casualties, some in buses, piling into a nearby hospital, as the BBC’s Nick Childs reports

The operation is still in “search-and-rescue mode” and has not yet moved to “recovery mode”, Waco police Sgt William Patrick Swanton told a news briefing on Thursday morning, some 12 hours after the explosion at 01:00 GMT (20:00 local time).

Between five and 15 people were killed, he said.

The explosion devastated the West Fertilizer Company, about 20 miles north of Waco, in central Texas.

The plant contained tanks of volatile anhydrous ammonia, including what initial reports said was a tanker-sized container like those hauled on freight trains, Sgt Swanton said.

In 2006, the plant was cited by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for failing to obtain or to qualify for a permit.

Dozens of homes were levelled and other buildings – including a school and nursing home a few hundred metres from the plant – were badly damaged.

Jason Shelton, 33, who lives less than a mile (1.6 km) from the plant, told the Reuters news agency he felt the concussion from the blast as he stood on his front porch.

“My windows started rattling and my kids screaming,” Mr Shelton said. “The screen door hit me in the forehead… and all the screens blew off my windows.”

More than 130 people had already been evacuated from the nursing home by the time of the explosion because the fire was recognised as a risk.

It was not immediately clear how many of them were hurt, a public safety department spokesman told a news conference.

A husband and wife who entered the nursing home before the emergency services arrived found residents in wheelchairs trapped in their rooms, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

“They had Sheetrock [plasterboard] that was on top of them. You had to remove that,” William Burch told AP. He described hallways filled with water and electrical wires hanging from the ceilings.

US President Barack Obama said his administration was in close contact with emergency services at the scene.

“West is a town that many Texans hold near and dear to their hearts, and as residents continue to respond to this tragedy, they will have the support of the American people,” he said in a statement.

One comment

  • Blast plant fined for lack of risk management plan, claimed ‘no fire danger’

    Published time: April 18, 2013 12:10
    http://rt.com/usa/west-fertilizer-plant-safety-051/

    The West Fertilizer Co factory of Texas, which exploded late Wednesday, was fined in 2006 by the Environmental Protection Agency for not having a risk-management plan. The same year the plant reported it posed ‘no risk’ of fire.

    Complaints were made in June 2006 regarding a strong smell of ammonia emanating from the plant, according to reports publicized by The Dallas Morning News (DMN).

    The concerns prompted Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to investigate. The plant was fined later in August by the EPA, which imposed a fine of $2,300 for failure to have a risk-management plan that was in line with federal standards.

    Such federal regulations are in place to ensure the prevention of chemical accidents through safeguards.

    A later report filed by the plant itself with EPA stated “no” under fire or explosive risks, saying that the, “worst possible scenario … would be a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would injure no one.”

    They went on to say that their ‘second-worst’ scenario would be a leak from a broken hose used to transfer the product, which would also not result in any injuries.

    The facility stated that it had no other dangerous chemicals on hand, adding that the plan was on file with the local fire department and that the company adhered to proper safety rules.

    Anhydrous ammonia is liable to explode if kept in certain concentrations inside containers. However, it is not generally considered a risk when in the air and in gas form.

    Regulators in Texas were fully aware that the fertilizer plant harbored two 12,000-gallon tanks of anhydrous ammonia and was near a school and residential neighborhood.

    Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) online records also show that there have been no federal inspections of West Fertilizer Co. over the past five years.

    The OSHA itself has repeatedly come under fire for being “dangerously ineffective” in protecting the health and safety of workers across the US.

    “The regional investigator described the area surrounding the facility as residential and farmland. There are two schools located within 3,000 ft. [1km] of this facility,” said the DMN report.

    A middle school, a nursing home and a hospital were all within a 1,500 feet radius of the plant when the explosion occurred, killing up to 15 people and injuring some 160 others.

    The West Fertilizer Co. itself reported having as much as 54,000lbs (24.5 tonnes) of anhydrous ammonia on site.

    “It’s revealing some of the weaknesses of the US state and its regulatory architecture,” Professor Sreeram Chaula, a world affairs analyst, told RT.

    “What has happened in Texas is symptomatic of the larger issue of world economy – we have lost any moorings in terms of how to regulate and manage capitalist industries,” he said.

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