(NPR) The massive explosion Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas, killed an estimated 5 to 15 people, injured more than 160 others and devastated the town of West, officials said Thursday morning as they tried to piece together what happened.
There are fears that the death toll could be even higher.
West Mayor Tommy Muska, who warned Wednesday night that "there are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow," said at a brief news conference early Thursday morning that "I ask for your prayers." The mayor had earlier described the explosion as being "like a nuclear bomb ... [a] big old mushroom cloud." The force of the explosion was picked up by the U.S. Geological Survey's earthquake monitors: It was the equivalent of a 2.1 magnitude temblor.
The cause of the blast, which as we reported Wednesday night happened as local firefighters were battling a blaze at the plant, had not yet been determined. Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton told reporters Thursday morning that: "We're not indicating it was a crime, but we don't know. ... Until we know that it was an industrial accident, we will work it as a crime scene."
NPR's John Burnett, who got to the area of the explosion early Thursday, tells our Newscast Desk that: "I spoke to one woman. Her son was playing football at the middle school there and he was lifted up in the air by the force of the explosion. They said they could see glass and debris flying through the air like shrapnel. They said it was the most terrifying experience of their lives."
The explosion destroyed or damaged dozens of homes, businesses and a nursing home.