Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Latest News

April 18, 2013

WEST EXPLOSION: Where it stands

THE EXPLOSION

Three to five volunteer firefighters and a constable responded at 7:29 p.m. Wednesday to a blaze at the West Fertilizer Co. Firefighters recognized the seriousness of the situation and began evacuating people from the immediate area. About 20 minutes later, an explosion with the force of a small earthquake shook the ground and could be heard dozens of miles away. Flames and a huge mushroom cloud filled the sky. A four-to-five block area around the plant was leveled, destroying 50 to 75 homes, a middle school and a nursing home where 133 residents, some in wheelchairs, were trapped in rubble and evacuated. The main fire was under control by 11 p.m.

THE VICTIMS

Police said the death toll remained uncertain. Waco police Sgt. William Swanton estimated five to 15 deaths, among them the three to five firefighters who initially responded to the plant fire. More than 160 people suffered injuries such as broken bones, bruises, lacerations, respiratory distress, and some head injuries and minor burns.

THE RESPONSE

Dozens of emergency vehicles amassed at the scene in the hours after the blast. Firefighters used flashlights to search the area for victims and survivors. A football field was used as a triage center. American Red Cross crews from across Texas headed to the scene to help evacuated residents. About 20 members of the Texas National Guard were sent to the scene and Gov. Rick Perry activated Texas Task Force 1, an 80-member urban search and rescue team equipped with heavy rescue equipment.

THE CAUSE

Authorities say there is no indication the blast was anything but an industrial accident. But they still have not been able to get to the heart of the blast site.

WHY WAS THE BLAST SO BIG?

Investigators still are looking into the exact cause of the blast. But ammonium nitrate is used commonly as fertilizer because of its high nitrogen content that fuels plant growth, said Ronald Smaldone, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Texas at Dallas. It's also used as a commercial explosive for mining and excavating because it's much more stable than dynamite.

Compounds with high nitrogen content become explosive under the right conditions because they form nitrogen gas as a byproduct.

If stressed, its chemical elements want to decompose into water and laughing gas, but the way they break apart is with a runaway explosive chemical reaction. "The hotter it is the faster the reaction will happen," said Neil Donahue, professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University.

HISTORY

Ammonium nitrate is best known as the explosive used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

More than a dozen other explosions involving the chemical have occurred over the past century. The deadliest was exactly 66 years ago this week, on April 16, 1947, when a series of explosions that began with a blast on a French freighter filled with more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer rocked the huge waterfront petrochemical complex at Texas City, just southeast of Houston. At least 576 people were killed and 5,000 injured.

Others in the United States included 14 killed in Roseburg, Ore., in 1959; six firemen in Kansas City, Mo., in 1988; four people in Port Neal, Iowa, in 1994. In Belgium in 1942, 189 people were killed. In 2001, an explosion at a hangar containing 300 tons of ammonium nitrate at a chemical and fertilizer plant killed 31 people and injured more than 2,000 in Toulouse, France. Another in France killed 29 in 1947, 162 in North Korea in 2004, 37 in Mexico in 2007, and 18 in Romania in 2004.

WHAT'S NEXT

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board was deploying a large investigation team. The board has not investigated a fertilizer plant explosion before, according to safety board managing director Daniel Horowitz. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was sending a national response team composed of investigators, certified explosives specialists, chemists, canines and forensic specialists.

__

Associated Press writers Malcolm Ritter in New York and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • 7-29-14 Lassiter.jpg Lassiter named new Calico director

    Brittany Watkins-Lassiter has been named the new Calico Director for Corsicana High School. Lassiter replaces Amy Tidwell, who resigned to become the dance squad coach in Sachse ISD.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-29-14 McManus.jpg County OKs mall lease

    The question of where many county courthouse offices would move during the three-year historical restoration of the Navarro County Courthouse was officially answered Monday.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • City approves new building rules

    The Corsicana City Council eased somewhat the standards for masonry buildings on highways when the group met in regular session Monday.

    July 28, 2014

  • Local Beat

    A listing of meetings and events of interest from throughout Navarro County.

    July 28, 2014

  • FAA proposes to fines Southwest Airlines $12M

    WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it is proposing a $12 million civil fine against Southwest Airlines for failing to comply in three separate cases with safety regulations related to repairs on Boeing 737 jetliners.

    July 28, 2014

  • Jury says it is stuck in Ventura case after five days

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The jury weighing former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's defamation lawsuit against "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle has told the judge they don't think they can reach a unanimous decision.

    July 28, 2014

  • City, county start week with meetings

    The Navarro County Commissioners Court and the Cosicana City Council both have meetings set for Monday.

    July 28, 2014

  • 7-27-14 HayFire.jpg Hay fire closes Interstate 45

    A hay trailer fire Sunday on Interstate 45 near Richland shut down the highway

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • County values up for 2014

    The property value of Navarro County went up 5 1/2 percent in value for 2015, a rebound from the last two years when the city and county were reeling from the loss of some major companies’ plants.

    July 26, 2014

  • Mills place pool Home, sweet home

    Judy and Wayne Nelson had a family of visitors last week — the daughter and grandchildren of the architect who designed their 1927 house on Mills Place.

    July 25, 2014 4 Photos