Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

As many as 15 are dead and more than 160 injured after a West, Texas fertilizer plant exploded.

As many as 15 are dead and more than 160 injured after a West, Texas fertilizer plant exploded.

WaPo (“Fertilizer plant explosion injures at least 160 in central Texas; 5 to 15 feared dead“):

A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in central Texas Wednesday night left more than 160 people wounded and killed an estimated five to 15 people, officials said, likely including firefighters who had been battling the blaze at the factory that triggered the explosion.

Images of the gargantuan fireball that devastated the tiny town of West, 20 miles north of Waco, were particularly jarring, coming just two days after a bombing that killed three people and injured scores of others at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Authorities emphasized that the estimate of how many people may have been killed in the blast are preliminary, because rescue crews have yet to access the most damaged areas of the West Fertilizer plant and the surrounding town.

“There are homes leveled. There are businesses leveled,” Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton said in a news briefing early Thursday. “There is massive devastation in the downtown West business area.”

West Mayor Tommy Muska said 50 to 60 homes within a five block radius of the factory were heavily damaged. West Rest Haven Nursing Home was being evacuated at the time of the blast because of the facility’s proximity to the fire; its residents have all been brought to a safe location, Muska said.

I’m not sure why the Boston Marathon blast is referenced here. There is as of yet zero evidence that this was anything other than an accident and a blast that kills numerous people and destroys homes is always going to be jarring. Indeed, coming so close to the Boston incident would if anything create a psychological overload; desensitization, not extra drama, is the more likely impact.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rob in CT says:

    Actually, I immediately thought of Boston. Not b/c I think the fertilizer blast was terrorism, but because of the relatively similar casualty counts (3 dead, ~180 wounded in Boston vs. ~15 dead, ~160 wounded in TX).

    The act of terrorism looks to have killed fewer people than an accident. That they were practically back-to-back allows for the comparison (and, fingers crossed, some perspective).

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Texas has quite the history with exploding fertilizer:

    The Texas City Disaster is generally considered the worst industrial accident in American history. Witnesses compared the scene to the fairly recent images of the 1943 Air Raid on Bari and the much larger devastation at Nagasaki. Of the dead, 405 were identified and 63 have never been identified. These 100[clarification needed] were placed in a memorial cemetery in the north part of Texas City near Moses Lake. A remaining 113 people were classified as missing, for no identifiable parts were ever found. This figure includes firefighters who were aboard Grandcamp when it exploded. There is some speculation that there may have been hundreds more killed but uncounted, including visiting seamen, non-census laborers and their families, and an untold number of travelers. However, there were some survivors as close as 70 feet (21 m) from the dock. The victims’ bodies quickly filled the local morgue, and several bodies were laid out in the local high school’s gymnasium for identification by loved ones.

    More than 5,000 people were injured, with 1,784 admitted to twenty-one area hospitals. More than 500 homes were destroyed and hundreds damaged, leaving 2,000 homeless. The seaport was destroyed and many businesses were flattened or burned. Over 1,100 vehicles were damaged and 362 freight cars were obliterated—the property damage was estimated at $100 million ($1.03 billion in today’s terms).[5]

    A two-ton anchor of Grandcamp was hurled 1.62 miles (2.61 km) and found in a 10-foot (3 m) crater. It now rests in a memorial park. The other main five-ton anchor was hurled 1/2 mile (800 m) to the entrance of the Texas City Dike, and rests on a Texas shaped memorial at the entrance. Burning wreckage ignited everything within miles, including dozens of oil storage tanks and chemical tanks. The nearby city of Galveston, Texas, was covered with an oily fog which left deposits over every exposed outdoor surface.

    I wonder if it has anything to do with the amount of bullsh!t produced there?

    (not to make light of such horrific disasters, but I could not resist the pun)

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The above comes from wikipedia. I would link but I lost my satellite a couple days ago and the backup is quite inadequate and a real pain.

  4. Scott says:

    I will wait for an actual cause; however, i will not be shocked if our lack of job-killing industrial safety regulations played a role. In Texas, we don’t kill jobs, just people.

  5. Anderson says:

    At Lawyers Guns & Money, they were noting the apparent failure of anyone in Texas to have heard of “zoning.”

    There was a nursing home and a school across the street from this fertilizer plant. That’s insane.

  6. rudderpedals says:

    @Anderson: There was a nursing home and a school across the street from this fertilizer plant.

    Barring a splosion it takes a long time for the invisible hand to clear the neighborhood.

  7. JKB says:

    Seeing the sat image my first thought was, “wow, they’ve really cleaned up the emissions”. The fertilizer plants I drove by on my way to school back in the 70s, all the trees were dead for a quarter mile down from the common winds. Secondly, was why the houses, school, etc. were so close. I suspect it was the residential encroaching on the industrial.

    Given the reports of a lot of the losses are police and fire, it seems like it was a fire response that went critical in some fashion.

    Sure they might find a safety violation but i doubt the explosion was related to low regulation. Regulations exist to reduce the likelihood of major disasters but they don’t prevent them completely. Sometimes things go bad.

  8. ernieyeball says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I’m pretty sure you are citing the incident in Texas City TX on April 16, 1947.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    There was a SF book (Redlining the Stars) which, aside from a rather obvious Mary Sue problem, also contained a very good description of the problems which occur when you allow ammonium nitrate to get hot, i.e., instant kaboom.

    At least the individuals in the story had a good excuse as to why large amounts of the stuff were in a residential area. Here, one wonders: what were they thinking?

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: Yes, but when the difference between “fire” and “disaster” is so small, you want to make damn sure you don’t get “fire” in the first place. A fire in any other sort of industrial production plant wouldn’t have the probabiliy of the same sort of damage.

  11. Matt says:

    @Anderson: The plant was there first and the other stuff was built up around it due to demand. West is a small town where zoning laws are minimal. There’s a nice bakery there but I haven’t been able to confirm it’s still standing 🙁

  12. anjin-san says:

    West is a small town where zoning laws are minimal.

    That sounds like a fine argument for state regulations when there is the possibility of a disaster of this magnitude.

  13. Matt says:

    @anjin-san: This is Texas!! We much prefer our regulations to be stupid and ineffective.!!

  14. anjin-san says:

    This is Texas!! We much prefer our regulations to be stupid and ineffective.!!

    And this illustrates some of the problems when having a pro business climate is the be all, end all. As conservatives never tire of reminding us, the purpose of a business is to make a profit. Being a good neighbor, or even giving a crap about the health & safety of the neighbors is not necessarily on the radar.

    Of course Rick Perry probably does not live near anything that is likely to explode…

  15. Matt says:

    @anjin-san: It’s hilarious down here. The politicians rail against liberals and their big government while passing laws require inspections of cars and stuff. I find it hilarious that in the oppressive liberal big government Illinois my car was never inspected but as soon as I move to Texas I had to submit to all kinds of “invasions”…

  16. anjin-san says:

    @ Matt

    It’s worth noting that Texas largely escaped the carnage of the real estate collapse because of it’s well regulated banking system.

  17. Matt says:

    @anjin-san: That is amusing thanks for sharing that information with me 🙂