Authorities say that five to 15 people may have died in last night's massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant in West, Texas. Many more, perhaps more than 160, were injured.

Among the dead are two emergency medical services personnel and three firefighters, according to the city's emergency management system director, Dr. George Smith. Smith added that the number of dead could rise to 60 or 70, as the catastrophic damage is viewed and measured in the daylight.

Sergeant Patrick Swanton of the Waco Police Department answered questions at a press conference this morning. Some important points he made:

  • The fire is under control, but not out yet
  • Several firefighters are still missing
  • "Nothing at this point indicates we have had criminal activity, but we are not ruling that out," he said
  • Search-and-rescue operations continue, particularly for the firefighters who may be trapped inside the still-burning building

News is still pouring in Thursday morning. The blast occurred Wednesday night at about shortly before 8 o'clock local time. Firefighters had been putting out a small fire at the fertilizer plant when, presumably, the flames reached the factory's chemicals, sparking a enormous explosion that sent out a shockwave that could be felt as far as 80 miles away. The blast damaged 50-60 homes, completely leveling many.

Tommy Muska, the mayor of West. said the blast felt "like a nuclear bomb went off." It was powerful enough to measure as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake. Half of the town's 2,800 residents were evacuated.

[CNN, NBC]