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14 confirmed dead in plant explosion

Aerial view of fertilizer plant after explosion.

Aerial view of fertilizer plant after explosion.

DALLAS — Rescuers searched yesterday for survivors in the rubble of homes destroyed by a fiery fertiliser plant explosion in a rural Texas town that the mayor said had killed at least 14 people.

Among the dead are four paramedics killed in the chemical blast at West Fertilizer Co. on Wednesday evening after emergency responders rushed to put out a fire at the plant, West Mayor Tommy Muska said.

He said five volunteer firefighters are listed as missing and feared dead. The cause of the explosion, which injured more than 160 people, was not known and officials said no evidence of foul play had been found.

“All of that unknown … is really scary, we don’t know what has happened, who is alive, who is hurt, that’s probably the worst part now,” said Pat Lee, whose 92-year-old mother was injured in the blast on Wednesday evening.

Police initially put the death toll at up to 15, but later on Thursday Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Jason Reyes told reporters that while the explosion had been deadly, it is not yet known exactly how many had been killed.

The Texas blast happened within days of the deadly Boston marathon bombings and the discovery of poisonous packages sent to President Barack Obama and a Republican senator – both incidents that revived memories of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Agents with the US Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are on the scene of the blast, which was the strength of a magnitude 2.1 earthquake, according to the US Geological Survey.

Firefighters had been battling a fire at the plant on Wednesday night for about 20 minutes before the blast rocked the town of 2,700 people about 20 miles north of Waco.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott toured the devastated area on Thursday and compared the scene to “a bombing site, the kind you see in Baghdad.” He said authorities were combing the area “inch by inch.”

The blast destroyed 60 to 80 houses, reduced a 50-unit apartment complex to what one local official called “a skeleton standing up” and left a horrific landscape of burned-out buildings and blackened rubble. (Reuters)

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