WACO, Texas - A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety says an unknown number of people were killed in a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco.
D.L. Wilson says it will be some time before authorities know the full extent of the loss of life and damage caused by Wednesday night's blast at the plant in West, about 20 miles north of Waco.
The explosion at West Fertilizer happened shortly before 8 p.m. and damaged buildings for blocks in every direction. It was so strong it could be felt from 45 miles away, and sent flames shooting high into the night sky, raining burning embers, shrapnel and debris.
The mayor of West, Texas, Tommy Muska, said volunteer firefighters went to fight a fire at the fertilizer plant about a half-hour before the massive explosion.
Muska says he's a volunteer firefighter himself and his helmet was knocked off when the explosion tore through the West Fertilizer plant around 7 p.m. Wednesday.
During a news conference Wednesday evening, Wilson told reporters they have probably more than 100 injuries reported at this time. He added that all the injured were taken to hospitals in Waco area. A Waco hospital official said at least 66 people were taken there for treatment, including some who were seriously hurt.
Wilson said there were confirmed fatalities but did not give a number.
He said he walked through the blast area and described it as "massive, just like Iraq, just like the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City."
At least 50 to 75 homes were damaged, as well as an apartment complex with 50 units, Wilson said.
Al Vanek, a city council member, says a four-block area around the explosion "is totally decimated."
Some of damaged buildings are a housing complex with a collapsed roof, a nearby middle school and the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, where first-responders evacuated more than 130 patients.
Wilson said the plant was still smoldering and that firefighters were unable to get inside due to toxic fumes.
He said that their main concern is getting people safe. An eight to 10 block area around the plant has been cleared and evacuated. Emergency personnel are now doing a second house-to-house search for victims that will last throughout the night.
Residents who have not evacuated are being told to stay indoors because of the threat of new explosions or leaks of ammonia from the plant.
Family members who are worried about loved ones can call 254-202-1100.
Watch video of the explosion below, or here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROrpKx3aIjA