The breathtaking band of destruction extending from the West Fertilizer Co. in the small farming community about 20 miles north of Waco was one of the worst industrial disasters the country has seen. (AP)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV/AP) -
Rescue workers searched the smoldering ruins of a fertilizer plant Thursday for survivors of a monstrous explosion that leveled homes and businesses in every direction across the Texas prairie. As many as 15 people were feared dead and more than 160 others injured.
The breathtaking band of destruction extending from the West Fertilizer Co. in the small farming community about 20 miles north of Waco was one of the worst industrial disasters the country has seen.
Many people across the United States, including the Kansas City Fire Department, are now voicing their concerns after the explosion.
The thunderous blast shook the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and could be heard dozens of miles away.
There was no indication the blast, which sent up a mushroom-shaped plume of smoke and left behind a yawning crater, was anything other than an industrial accident, Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said.
In Kansas City at Haz-Mat 71, a trained chemist goes out with firefighters when hazardous materials are involved, and they say with their job there is a lot of uncertainty.
But that is what Haz-Mat crews do - prepare for the unknowns.
When calls are dispatched and chemicals are inside, they first locate someone from that facility.
Crews find out what are the chemicals are, how they react to water, air, temperature and fire.
There are no fertilizer plants in Kansas City's immediate area, like the plant that exploded in West, TX, but there are facilities that carry some of the same chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia gas. Plants, railroads and semis hauling chemicals create hazardous situations in the Kansas City area.
"From our standpoint, a hazmat perspective, it is a flammable product that does have some toxicity and corrosiveness associated with it. That is why when it comes into contact with moisture even on your skin. That why it burns when you breathe, creating a caustic effect in the body," hazmat manager Tom Seitel said.
A hazardous substance caused a massive explosion 30 years ago right in Kansas City.
Six firefighters were killed in 1988 when they responded to a storage fire. Ammonium nitrate was stored in that facility.
It was the reason Kansas City's Haz-Mat facility and department were created. A special tax funded the unit.
Seitel said it's critical for emergency crews to know what they are dealing with when they roll up on a scene including what could cause the material or chemical to explode.
"We try to be proactive in the community," he said, adding that advance work gives firefighters a greater understanding when they respond to a scene.
"We already know what they have, where they have it and how much they have," he said.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Tuesday, July 22 2014 7:14 PM EDT2014-07-22 23:14:19 GMT
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