Between five and 15 people died Wednesday night after a fertilizer depot outside of Waco caught fire and exploded, damaging dozens of nearby homes and an apartment complex before first responders could carry out an evacuation.
Initial casualty reports coming out early in the morning suggested a toll far worse, but authorities said on Thursday morning that hard numbers were still difficult to come by. The Austin American Statesman reported that more than 150 people were sent to area hospitals following the blast, and officials now estimate the death toll between five and 15.
Appearing at a midnight press conference, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson D.L. Wilson refused to deny reports estimating a much higher death toll, according to Dallas ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV, saying that roughly 75 homes were damaged by the blast, along with a nearby apartment complex with 50 units, a nursing home and school.
The blast radius affected nearly every structure within four blocks, officials said, registering as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake that could be felt as far away as Dallas. “It was like a nuclear bomb went off,” one man told WFAA-TV. Footage of the explosion was caught by an amateur videographer and published online (embedded below).
“It was a pretty horrific scene, some of the injuries we saw,” Derek Hurt, who filmed the explosion, told NBC “Today” host Matt Lauer on Thursday morning. “There was probably double-digit people standing in front of me videoing that were closer than I was, and after the blast, they were nowhere to be seen.”
“I’m pretty sure it lifted the truck off the ground,” he added. “It just blew me over on top of [my daughter]. It all happened so quick that things just kind of went black for a moment.” In Hurt’s video, his two young daughters can be heard screaming in fear seconds after the blast. “Please get out of here! Dad, please get out of here!” a girl shouts. “I can’t hear anything!”
Hurt said that the girls’ hearing has thankfully returned.
“We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident,” Gov. Rick Perry (R) said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday night. “We have also mobilized state resources to help local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West, and the first responders on the scene.”
Approximately half the town’s 2,800 residents remain evacuated.
This video is from WFAA-TV, aired Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
The video below, published to YouTube on April 17, 2013, may be disturbing to some viewers.
This video is from NBC “Today,” aired Thursday, April 18, 2013.
Updated from an original version to include eyewitness report.