A huge explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas, has left 60 people feared dead, more than 100 injured and caused multiple buildings to be flattened.
The blast at the plant in West, close to Waco, at 7.50 p.m. (CST) on Wednesday left fires burning as a three-mile radius around the blast zone was evacuated amid fears of a secondary explosion.
Six or seven fire crew are unaccounted for following the blast. Firefighters, many of whom are volunteers in West, were unable to battle the blaze at present because of the extreme danger.
Several buildings are still on fire, after the blast at the West Fertilizer plant.
An official confirmed there were deaths, but could not give a figure.
Dean Wilson, of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said during a press conference at midnight that it will be some time before authorities know the full extent of the loss of life and damage, adding that they were still conducting house to house searches.
He said the fire was still smoldering and that no firefighters were tackling it as there was the risk of further explosions.
Half the town had been evacuated, Dean Wilson added.
The Waco Tribune-Herald reported that firefighters had been trying to put out a fire at the plant when the explosion happened, and that some were among those injured.
The blast happened in West, a town of about 2,700 people some 20 miles north of Waco.
TV images showed streams of emergency vehicles descending on the site and ambulance crews using a nearby sports field as an emergency treatment area.
Glenn A Robinson, chief executive of Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, told CNN that his hospital had received 66 injured people including 38 who were seriously hurt.
He said the hospital was seeing “everything from orthopaedic injuries to patients that are experiencing serious blood loss”.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said: “It’s a lot of devastation. I’ve never seen anything like this. It looks like a war zone with all the debris.”
Unconfirmed reports said a nursing home had collapsed in the explosion and some people were believed trapped inside.
Witness Debby Marak told the Associated Press news agency that she had seen smoke coming from the area near the plant and had driven over to see what was happening.
She said that when she arrived, two boys ran toward her screaming that the authorities had told them to leave because the fertilizer plant was going to explode.
The air in town was still covered in acrid smoke more than two hours after the explosion.
The area around the site was littered with shards of wood, bricks and glass.
Texas Governor Rick Perry said in a statement: “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.”