WEST, Texas (AP/WDRB) -- Witnesses are describing the impact of the explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas that left as many as 15 people dead and more than 160 others injured.
Erick Perez was playing basketball at a nearby middle school yesterday evening when a fire started at the plant. He says he and his friends thought nothing of it, but then the smoke changed color. He says the blast threw him, his nephew and others to the ground, and showered the area with hot embers and debris.
Julie Zahirniako had been with her son at the school playground. She says the explosion threw her son four feet in the air, breaking his ribs.
She says she saw people running from a nearby nursing home, and that the roof of the school lifted into the sky.
The nursing home was also badly damaged. One man who arrived there before the first responders says he and his wife found residents in wheelchairs trapped in their rooms, amid dark hallways and ceilings that had collapsed.
Police in Texas say it's not clear how many people remain trapped in the rubble.
Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton says officials on the ground remain in "search and rescue mode," going building to building in the largely decimated neighborhood surrounding the plant.
He says he knows some firefighters still are missing.
Swanton says a thunderstorm that rolled through the area early Thursday has helped in some ways, including tamping down chemicals released from the plant.
The explosion Wednesday night shook the ground with the strength of a small earthquake in the community of 2,800 people located about 20 miles north of Waco.
Swanton says there is no indication the blast was anything other than an industrial accident. But he said investigators are treating the plant as a crime scene until they determine whether it was industrial accident that caused the explosion.
Mayor of West, Texas says 50-60 homes were damaged or destroyed around the fertilizer plant. Emergency responders are going door to door looking for injured and trapped. They will continue as a search and rescue until they feel like they have exhausted the possibility of survivors.
Three to five firefighters who were fighting the fire at the time of the blast are unaccounted for.
Buildings including a school and a nursing home are leveled for blocks, and a fertilizer factory is just a smoldering pile of rubble following the massive explosion.
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