Unknown number of fatalities in Texas fertilizer plant explosion

WACO, Texas

West Mayor Tommy Muska said at a news conference that there was a fire at the West Fertilizer plant before Wednesday night's explosion. He says says he doesn't yet know how many people were hurt or killed in the blast. The Texas Department of Public Safety says an unknown number of people were killed. D.L. Wilson says it will be some time before authorities know the full extent of the loss of life and damage caused by the blast.

Authorities will be going house by house searching for survivors. There are an estimated 700 first responders at the scene.

Muska says volunteer firefighters went to fight a fire at a fertilizer plant about a half-hour before a massive explosion tore through it and damaged surrounding buildings. Muska says he's a volunteer firefighter himself and his helmet was knocked off when the explosion tore through the West Fertilizer plant around 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The blast could be heard at least 45 miles away and it caused major damage to surrounding buildings. USGS data shows the explosion registered as a 2.1 quake.

"It's total chaos," West City Councilwoman Cheryl Marak said, according to ABC News Radio. "There's ambulances and fire trucks and police cars from everywhere."

At least 124 people have been hospitalized, with one hospital saying that 20 more are on the way. Of those, 38 considered serious. Wounded are being triaged at Baptist Hillcrest Medical Center in Waco. Wounded are also being sent to Hillsboro Regional Hospital.

Firefighters are concerned about the presence of anhydrous ammonia at the plant, a pungent gas that is used as a fertilizer. The West Fertilizer Company has reported having as much as 54,000 pounds of it on hand. Anhydrous ammonia can cause serious health problems.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement Wednesday evening, saying in part, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West, and the first responders on the scene."

Country music legend Willie Nelson sent out his prayers via Twitter. "West has been in my backyard all my life," Nelson tweeted early Thursday. "My heart is praying for the community that we call home." Nelson grew up about five miles north of West.

The town of West is about 80 miles south of Dallas and has a population of about 2,800.

Official hotline for people looking for loved ones possibly injured in West: 254-202-1100

The Associated Press and ABC News contributed to this report

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