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Death toll rising in firestorm at Texas fertilizer plant; sabotage discounted (+video)

First responders on Thursday continue to search buildings near a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, site of a fire and huge explosion that rocked the town Wednesday night. 'Like a nuclear bomb' is how the town's mayor described the blast.

Texas fertilizer plant explodes
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Almost as soon as firefighters arrived to battle a major fire at a large fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, on Wednesday night, a large tank of ammonia blew “like a nuclear bomb,” injuring more than 100 people and killing and hurting several first responders, including volunteer firefighters.

With the sun just coming up over the Texas prairies, it’s too early to know the full extent of the destruction. So far, authorities have counted 160 injuries and several dead. But the search and rescue operation could yield as many as 60 more casualties, authorities feared.

West Mayor Tommy Muska described the blast as “like a nuclear bomb … big old mushroom cloud,” and McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara likened the scene to a “war zone.” Authorities on Thursday morning are still conducting house-to-house searches. They were able to evacuate most of a retirement home near the plant before the explosion.

Among the injured is the son of Jonny Payne, proprietor of a local funeral home. Her son, a volunteer firefighter, suffered several broken bones in the blast and remained in the hospital on Thursday morning, she said. Local officials said several volunteer firemen were inside the fertilizer plant when the tank exploded.

“The plant’s on the other end of the town and my house shook, yes, it did, it shook my house,” said Ms. Payne in a phone interview. “My friend’s staying with me right now because her house was destroyed, everything blown out.”

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