West Fertilizer Company explosion

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West Fertilizer Company explosion
West Explosion Aerial.jpg
Aerial photo taken several days after the event.
Date April 17, 2013 (2013-04-17)
Time 7:50:38 p.m. CDT (UTC−05:00)
Location West Fertilizer Co.,
1471 Jerry Mashek Drive,
West, Texas, United States
Coordinates 31°48′58″N 97°05′17″W / 31.816°N 97.088°W / 31.816; -97.088Coordinates: 31°48′58″N 97°05′17″W / 31.816°N 97.088°W / 31.816; -97.088
Deaths 15 confirmed[1][2]
Injuries More than 160[3]
Property damage West Fertilizer Company building obliterated,[4] 60–80 homes destroyed, 50–75 homes damaged, 50-unit apartment building destroyed[5]
West Middle School damaged

On April 17, 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, eighteen miles (29 km) north of Waco while emergency services personnel were responding to a fire at the facility.[6] Fifteen people were killed, more than 160 were injured, and more than 150 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Investigators have confirmed that ammonium nitrate was the material that exploded, but the cause of the initial fire is as yet unknown.[7]

Background[edit]

West Fertilizer Company has supplied chemicals to farmers since it was founded in 1962; as of 2013 it is owned by Adair Grain, Inc. and employed nine workers at the facility[8][9]

The plant was last inspected by Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1985. According to records obtained by the Associated Press, OSHA cited the plant for improper storage of anhydrous ammonia and fined it $30; OSHA could have imposed a fine of as much as $1,000. OSHA also cited the plant for violations of respiratory protection standards, but they did not issue fines. Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said the facility was not on their "National Emphasis Plan" for inspections because it was not a manufacturer, had no record of a major accident, and the Environmental Protection Agency did not consider it a major risk.[10][11]

Map of West, Texas

After a complaint in 2006 about an ammonia smell coming from the facility, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated and cited the operator for not having obtained a permit for its two storage tanks containing anhydrous ammonia. A permit was issued once the operators brought the facility into accord with the regulations and recommendations made by the agency. Also in 2006, the EPA fined the owners $2,300 for problems that included a failure to file a risk management program plan on time.[12][13][14] In June 2012, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration further fined the facility $5,250 for violations regarding its storage of anhydrous ammonia.[11]

According to an open records request by Reuters, the plant had a long history of minor thefts, presumably by people wanting to use anhydrous ammonia to make methamphetamine. Despite this, the facility lacked burglar alarms or even a fenced perimeter. Following recommendations by law enforcement, a surveillance system was installed in 2009.[15]

In an emergency planning report filed with the EPA in 2011, company officials stated the ammonia storage tanks did not represent a significant fire or explosion hazard. The tanks were still intact following the fire and explosion.[16][17]

According to their last filing with the EPA in late 2012, the company stated that it stored 540,000 pounds (270 short tons; 240 t) of ammonium nitrate and 110,000 pounds (55 short tons; 50 t) of anhydrous ammonia on the site.[18] A week after the explosion, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Senate investigators that the company did not appear to have disclosed its ammonium nitrate stock to her department. Federal law requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be notified whenever anyone has more than one ton of ammonium nitrate on hand, or 400 pounds (180 kg) if the ammonium nitrate is combined with combustible material.[14][15]

Fire and explosion[edit]

The facility caught fire on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, then exploded as firefighters were attempting to douse the flames.[19] The cause of the initial fire remains unknown;[20] authorities ruled out weather, natural causes, anhydrous ammonia, and ammonium nitrate in a rail car as possible causes of the fire.[21] The explosion occurred about 7:50:38 p.m. CDT (00:50 UTC, April 18).[6][22]

Aftermath[edit]

USGS ground level intensity map for the event.

As a result of the massive explosion, the West Fertilizer Company plant was obliterated, and heavy damage and further destruction was caused to surrounding areas. Numbers for people dead or injured varied initially.

Damage[edit]

In addition to the obliterated plant, the damaged buildings included the public West Middle School, which sits next to the facility.[23] A neighboring 50-unit, two-story apartment building was destroyed.[5]

The blast damaged the nearby West Rest Haven nursing home, and many residents were evacuated. Many of the nursing home residents received cuts from flying glass, but emergency personnel on scene judged that most of these injuries were not life-threatening.[24]

On April 20, some residents who tried to return to their destroyed homes were turned away, because leaking gas tanks were causing small fires.[25]

According to the company's insurer, United States Fire Insurance of Morristown, New Jersey, the facility only had one million dollars in liability insurance: According to official estimates, the amount is highly insufficient to cover the cost of damages. Furthermore, according to The Dallas Morning News, Texas law allows fertilizer storage facilities to operate without any liability insurance at all, even when they store hazardous materials.[26]

Injuries and fatalities[edit]

West Mayor Tommy Muska told the Waco Tribune-Herald that as of late evening, April 17, six or seven volunteer firefighters from the city were unaccounted for.[27] West EMS Director Dr. George Smith, himself injured, stated that he believed at least two emergency responders were killed.[28]

"We do have confirmed fatalities," Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman D.L. Wilson said at a midnight news conference on April 17. "We have a tremendous amount of injuries ... over 100 injuries at this time." Wilson did not confirm or deny an earlier report that the number of deaths could be in the range of 60 to 70. He said the blast zone was "just like the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City," comparing its effects to the Oklahoma City bombing, and that there were "50 to 75" homes and businesses damaged.[29] Sergeant William Patrick Swanton of the Waco Police Department said the operation has gone into a "search-and-rescue mode", aiming to find survivors and recover those who might be trapped in buildings. He said at least 160 people had been injured, and the firefighters who were combating the initial fire were yet to be accounted for. Swanton quoted local environmental officials and emergency personnel in saying there was no risk to the community from the smoke fumes rising from the facility.[30]

Over 100 people were reported to be injured in the blast and were originally transported to a makeshift Triage set up at West High School's football field. It was later moved to a community center due to its proximity to the still-burning facility. Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco received over 40 injured for treatment.[31] Patients were also admitted to Waco's Providence Healthcare Network, Fort Worth's John Peter Smith Health Network, Dallas's Parkland Memorial Hospital, and Temple's Scott and White Memorial Hospital.[32]

It was announced on April 19 that twelve bodies had been recovered, sixty people were missing, and there had been at least 200 injured.[33] The twelve dead included ten first responders as well as two civilians who had volunteered to fight the fire.[34]

The final confirmed death toll was fifteen fatalities,[1][2] while approximately 160 people sustained non-fatal injuries.[3]

Reaction[edit]

Seismograph reading from Hockley, Texas, 142 miles (228 km) south-east of West, clearly displaying the temblor caused by the explosion.

Those living in and around West report that the blast felt like an earthquake.[35] The United States Geological Survey recorded the explosion as a 2.1-magnitude tremor.[36][37] The blast was heard in nearby Hillsboro, Waxahachie, DeSoto, and as far north as Arlington. Windows were blown out in Abbott, 7 miles (11 km) NNE of West.[38]

Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a statement on the evening of April 17:

"We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident. We have also mobilized state resources to help local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West, and the first responders on the scene."[39]

President Barack Obama issued his own statement on April 18:

"Today our prayers go out to the people of West, Texas in the aftermath of last night's deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant. A tight-knit community has been shaken, and good, hard-working people have lost their lives. I want to thank the first responders who worked tirelessly through the night to contain the situation and treat the wounded. My Administration, through FEMA and other agencies, is in close contact with our state and local partners on the ground to make sure there are no unmet needs as search and rescue and response operations continue. West is a town that many Texans hold near and dear to their hearts, and as residents continue to respond to this tragedy, they will have the support of the American people."[40][41]

Due to toxic fumes and a large number of displaced families, West Independent School District announced on its Twitter feed that all five of the district's schools would stay closed until further notice; they reopened on April 22.[42] Nearby school districts Abbott ISD and Penelope ISD also closed their schools for a day.

Waco Police indicated that the explosion site would be treated as a crime scene out of caution. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced on the morning of April 18 that it would be sending a national response team including fire investigators, explosive experts, chemists, and canine units to investigate the site.[43] The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent federal agency that investigates accidents involving industrial chemicals, also dispatched a major investigation team to West to begin searching for the cause of the disaster.[44]

Urban Search and Rescue Texas Task Force 1 and Texas Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue were deployed on the morning of April 18 to assist in search and rescue.[45][46] An incident management team from the Texas A&M Forest Service was also deployed,[47] as was the Veterinary Emergency Team from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.[48]

Governor Perry declared McLennan County a disaster area, and on April 22, President Obama issued an Emergency Declaration, which afforded the state aid with 75% federal funding.[49][50] On April 18, the Texas National Guard sent members of the 6th Civil Support Team to the area to test the air quality and assess chemical and biological hazards.[51]

On June 13, 2013, FEMA declined additional aid to the town, based in large part on the ability of the State of Texas to provide the necessary funds to rebuild.[52] However, on August 2, 2013, FEMA reversed its original decision and approved a major disaster declaration for West.[53]

Investigation[edit]

The state fire marshal department said that investigators interviewed "almost 300 people," and followed 160 leads in their initial investigation.

In May, 2013, the Texas Department of Public Safety instructed the Texas Rangers and the McLennan Sheriff's Department to join the Texas Fire Marshall's Office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in the criminal investigation into the explosion.[54][55]

Ultimately, investigators blamed stocks of ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored in a bin inside a seed and fertilizer building on the property for the explosion[56] but failed to identify what started the actual fire which led to the explosion.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Chappel, Bill (April 23, 2013). "Death Toll In West, Texas, Fertilizer Explosion Rises To 15". 
  2. ^ a b Krauss, Clifford and Santos, Fernanda. "Report: As many as 35 killed in Texas plant explosion". The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Jervis, Rick and Stanglin, Doug (April 18, 2013). "Mayor says at least 10 first responders among those killed in explosion that officials say was likely an industrial accident.". USA Today. 
  4. ^ Nomaan Merchant and John L. Mone (April 18, 2013). "Fertilizer Plant Explosion In Texas Levels Buildings, Claims As Many As 15 Lives". The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 19, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Regina Dennis (April 18, 2013). "Rescuers searching for victims of Texas fertilizer plant blast". chicagotribune.com. Reuters. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Explosion hits fertilizer plant north of Waco, Texas". CNN. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Ammonium nitrate was trigger for Texas blast, state agency says". Reuters. May 7, 2013. Retrieved May 7, 2013. 
  8. ^ Amy Langfield (April 18, 2013). "West Fertilizer Plant Showed Few Warning Signs". NBC NEWS. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  9. ^ Ginger Allen (April 18, 2013). "I-Team: What Went Wrong At West Fertilizer Plant". CBS Local DFW. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  10. ^ Hananel, Sam (April 19, 2013). "Texas Fertilizer Plant Had Last OSHA Inspection In 1985". The Huffington Post. Associated Press. 
  11. ^ a b "Plant Explosion Tears at the Heart of a Texas Town". The New York Times. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  12. ^ EPA Envirofacts Warehouse. Iaspub.epa.gov. Retrieved on April 19, 2013.
  13. ^ "West Fertilizer". Central Registry Query: Regulated Entity Information. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Smith, Matt. Records: Texas plant hadn't told feds about explosive fertilizer. CNN, April 26, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Selam Gebrekidan and Joshua Schneyer. "Exclusive: At Texas fertilizer plant, a history of theft, tampering". Reuters, May 3, 2013.
  16. ^ Loftis, Randy Lee (April 18, 2013). "West fertilizer plant said in report that it presented no risk". Dallas Morning News. 
  17. ^ Berzon, Alexandra; Lefebvre, Ben; Gilbert, Daniel (April 18, 2013). "Fertilizer Firm Cited Minimal Risks in Regulatory Filings". The Wall Street Journal. 
  18. ^ Fernandez, Manny; Schwartz, John (April 19, 2013). "Blast at Plant Tears at Heart of Texas Town". The New York Times. p. 1. 
  19. ^ Crawford, Selwyn (April 17, 2013). "Live video: Fertilizer plant explosion injures dozens in West, near Waco". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  20. ^ "UPDATE: EMS Director Says 60 To 70 Dead In West Explosion". KWTX.com (KWTX). April 17, 2013. Retrieved April 17, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Criminal Probe Sarted in Texas Fertilizer Plant Blast". CNN. May 10, 2013. 
  22. ^ Adair Grain Inc., DBA West Fertilizer Co., EPA Facility Registry System
  23. ^ Johnson, M. Alex. "Multiple injuries reported in explosion at Texas fertilizer plant". NBC. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  24. ^ "UPDATE: Evacuations ordered in West after fertilizer plant blast". Waco Tribune-Herald. April 17, 2013. Retrieved April 17, 2013. 
  25. ^ Weissert, Will (April 20, 2013). "Small fires stop West residents from going home". Seattle PI. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  26. ^ Swanson, Doug; Dunklin, Reese. West Fertilizer was insured for only $1 million, a fraction of estimated losses. The Dallas Morning News, May 4, 2013.
  27. ^ West Mayor Tommy Muska: Six or seven firefighters were in the facility at the time of the explosion and not accounted for., Waco Tribune-Herald Twitter, April 17, 2013
  28. ^ "Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Rescuers Searching for Survivors, Missing People". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  29. ^ Unger, Todd; Stoler, Steve; Owens, Marjorie; Goodman, Matt (April 17, 2013). "Dallas Fire-Rescue firefighter among those killed in West". Wfaa.com. Retrieved April 19, 2013. 
  30. ^ "West Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion: 'Significant Devastation' After Blast". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  31. ^ "2013 Texas Fertilizer Factory Blasts". Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  32. ^ James, Michael S.; Lee, Rebecca; Ng, Christina (April 18, 2013). "Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Sends 180 to Hospitals, Levels Homes, 5 to 15 Feared Dead". ABCNews.com (ABC News Network). Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  33. ^ "12 bodies recovered from Texas town after fertilizer plant blast". NBC News. Retrieved April 19, 2013. 
  34. ^ "Obama consoles Texas community rocked by blast: 'You are not alone'". The Guardian. April 25, 2013. 
  35. ^ "Powerful explosion rocks small town north of Waco". WFAA. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  36. ^ "Central Texas fertilizer blast triggers 2.1 magnitude quake". WFAA-TV. April 18, 2013. 
  37. ^ "Magnitude 2.1 – CENTRAL TEXAS". U.S. Geological Survey. April 18, 2013. 
  38. ^ Elizondo, John (April 17, 2013). "At least 160 injured after West fertilizer plant explosion". KXXV.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  39. ^ Unger, Todd (April 17, 2013). "West, Texas mayor: 'I ask for your prayers'". Wfaa.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  40. ^ David Jackson (April 18, 2013). "Obama sends prayers to West, Texas". USA Today. Retrieved April 19, 2013. 
  41. ^ "Statement from the President on the Explosion in West, Texas". Whitehouse.gov. April 18, 2013. Retrieved April 19, 2013. 
  42. ^ West Independent School District (April 17, 2013). "All West ISD campuses closed...". Twitter. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  43. ^ "ATF sends team to plant explosion site". April 18, 2013. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  44. ^ "Chemical Safety Board Deploying to West Fertilizer Plant Accident". Chemical Safety Board. April 18, 2013. 
  45. ^ "Texas Task Force 1 deploys to West on search and rescue mission". The Eagle. April 18, 2013. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  46. ^ "West Explosion Claims 14 Lives; 9 Were First Responders". KWTX.com. April 19, 2013. Retrieved August 31, 2013. 
  47. ^ "Texas A&M Forest Service". Txforestservice.tamu.edu. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  48. ^ "Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team Dispatched to West Explosion". KBTX. April 18, 2013. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  49. ^ "West Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion: Emergency Declaration 'Forthcoming', Gov. Rick Perry Says". Int'l Business Times. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  50. ^ Press Secretary. "President Obama Signs Texas Emergency Declaration". White House. Retrieved May 8, 2013. 
  51. ^ "Guard Sent to Test Air After Fertilizer Explosion". Military.com. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  52. ^ "FEMA denies additional aid to Texas town where fertilizer plant exploded". Fox News. June 13, 2013. Retrieved August 31, 2013. 
  53. ^ "In reverse decision, FEMA approves major disaster declaration for West". Dallas News. August 2, 2013. Retrieved September 28, 2013. 
  54. ^ "Texas officials launch criminal investigation into plant explosion". Reuters. May 10, 2013. 
  55. ^ "Texas Explosion Criminal Investigation Launched By Law Enforcement Officials". Huffington Post. Associated Press. May 10, 2013. 
  56. ^ Formby, Brandon (May 6, 2013). "Investigators blame ammonium nitrate in massive West explosion - The Dallas Morning News". Dallasnews.com. Retrieved August 31, 2013. 

External links[edit]