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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Fire, Explosion at Texas Fertilizer Plant; Hospitals Treat Hundreds Injured in Explosion; Red Cross Assists with Victims; 150- Plus Taken to Area Hospitals; Weather Concerns at Texas Blast Site; Volunteer Firefighter's Wife Talks to Piers Morgan.
Aired April 18, 2013 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our breaking news coverage here on CNN. I'm Rosemary Church.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Vause. We'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
CHURCH: We begin with breaking news. A fire and a huge explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas. Hospitals are treating more than a hundred injured people. There are at least two confirmed fatalities at this time. But authorities say that number could very well go much higher.
We want to take just a minute to show this video that was posted on KWKT.com. And that shows what appears to be a secondary explosion after that initial fire.
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CHURCH: Now, this is what we know. Residents are being evacuated from the town. And there are fears that a second large fertilizer tank may explode. Emergency officials say 60-80 homes and an apartment complex have been leveled. And there are reports that a school and nursing home have been badly damaged.
Rescue workers have been unable to get anywhere near that plant because, of course, the fire is still smoldering and releasing toxic chemicals the air.
And we do want to show you exactly where this explosion took place. The West Fertilizer Plant is in the small town West in Texas. That's 28 kilometers north of Waco. West, in Texas, is home to about 2600 people!
VAUSE: Rosemary, responders have set up a field triage station on a football field near the plant to help treat those who have been wounded. A local hospital CEO has told us that six helicopters flew out some of the injured while others were being taken by ambulance, car. Emergency officials have sent hazardous material teams to the scene to try and deal with the anhydrous ammonia, which is a fertilizer and also considered toxic.
CHURCH: Now, we do want to give you a number if you need more information about the victims of this fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. The Hillcrest Hospital has set up an information number to call. Grab your pencil if you need this number. I'm going to read it out a couple of times so you can get this. 254-202-1100. That's 254- 202-1100.
VAUSE: Texas policeman, D.L. Wilson, spoke to the media after returning to the scene. He confirmed there were fatalities, but he says the situation remains fluid. Wilson went onto say that the plant remains smoldering and that firefighters have not been able to get inside.
D.L. WILSON, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: We do have confirmed fatalities. The number is not current yet. It could go up by the minute. We're in there searching the area right now and making sure that it's safe for any other people around there and the firefighters are trying to be safe and go back in because there's a lot of wind blowing, changing the area. The anhydrous is still smoking and there's small flames and they don't want to get the firefighters injured inside the blast area.
I can tell you, I was there. I walked through the blast area. I searched some houses earlier tonight. Massive. Just like Iraq. Just like the Murray Building in Oklahoma City. Same kind of anhydrous exploded so you can imagine what kind of damage we're looking at there.
I know there was at least 75-50 -- 50-75 houses damaged. There's an apartment complex that has about 50 units in it that was completely just a skeleton, standing up. There's a nursing home in the area that held 133 people in the nursing home. We've got them evacuated. I don't know what their injuries are there right now. But all injuries have been removed from the scene and taken to local hospitals in the Waco area.
We've had numerous agencies helping us from the Dallas-Ft. Worth area to all the surrounding areas. We've had a great turn out to come out to help us get through this tragedy that we've had in this small community.
I wish I could give you more information. All the injured right now have been taken care of. We're going to go back in and do another house-by-house search and see if anybody else, victims are in the houses. That's going to be going on all night. So we have a command post set up for the law enforcement. We have a command post set up for the emergency units also. And we still have a triage center set up at the community center right over here.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What's the status of the plant? WILSON: It's still smoldering. Right now, they did not give us any update on it. It was smoldering, still, and there still is active, you know, other ingredients there on the facility. So we don't want that to explode again. So, right now, we cannot get fire fighters in there. We're worried about people right now, not property. We want people to be safe that. 'S our main goal right now, getting people safe and getting them out of there.
VAUSE: We're being told hundreds of people have been wounded in this fire and explosion.
Joining us now on the line is Keith Hopkins. He's from the Providence Health Center. He is in Waco, Texas.
Mr. Hopkins, just tell us, what sort of injuries are you treating people for after this explosion?
KEITH HOPKINS, ADMINISTRATOR, PROVIDENCE HEALTH CENTER (voice-over): Right now, we've treated broken bones, head injuries and quite a few from respiratory distress from the anhydrous ammonia from the fertilizer plant.
VAUSE: Just how toxic are the fumes that you're dealing with here?
HOPKINS: Well, we have -- we have to be very careful in terms of decontaminating these patients. We have also been put on alert that, depending on how the wind blows, that it could affect us here in Waco. They seem to be doing well. We have had tremendous physician support, nursing, respiratory, all of those folks have been here. And we've been able to take care of the situation as best we can.
VAUSE: I read somewhere that every ambulance in central Texas is on the scene there. Does that sound like a fair assessment?
HOPKINS: That sounds like a very fair -- a very fair statement, absolutely. And there's been people from the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area, all over central Texas responding to the terrible disaster.
VAUSE: What are you expecting in the coming hours?
HOPKINS: Well, we should have probably the majority of the folks that have been triaged at the local football field. We probably will be seeing some walk-ins from the local community there. We have had some nursing home patients from the nursing home that was destroyed come through and the nursing homes in the region are -- have stepped up and found spots for all of those people to go to. Obviously, that facility is not operable at this point. So it's not just the folks in Waco. But all of central Texas has been tremendous in this very disastrous situation.
VAUSE: Mr. Hopkins, during an emergency like this, there's the response to triage, there's the treating of the people who have suffered the most serious injuries, and then there's the next day and the next few days after this. What plans are you making for that?
HOPKINS: Well, we are, right now, working with city and county officials in terms of shelters for those many, many folks that have lost their homes, and provide other social service support to those that need it. And that's something that our local community has already begun preparing for.
VAUSE: There is also a lot of speculation about the number of people who have made -- who may have died in this explosion. Any idea when we may get some firm, concrete numbers on that?
HOPKINS: Well, I think those are going to come from West, from the emergency management folks. I was listening to an earlier interview that listed, you know, some of the fatalities. And that's something that I'll just have to refer -- let you refer back to them, you know. They said in terms of 60 or 70. Who know what is that's going be when it's all said and done.
VAUSE: Did you feel the explosion?
HOPKINS: Well, we're 20 miles away. But as far as 10 miles or so, it broke windows. And I had a personal friend of mine that called me and he happened to be outside at the time, and his house, his vehicles, they're just leveled. Blown away. And how he managed not to be seriously hurt? Who knows? So it's -- it's pretty devastating.
VAUSE: OK. So, we will leave it that way. We appreciate the update.
Keith Hopkins from the Providence Health Center, the administrator there in Waco Texas, joining us on the line.
60 people being treated at that facility. Making plans on how to deal with this on-going emergency which will be an emergency situation for many, many days to come.
Thank you, sir.
CHURCH: All right, we're getting word at this time that the American Red Cross is sending crews from across Texas to the scene of the explosion.
Joining us now with more is Anita Foster, the Red Cross public information officer.
Thank you so much for joining us.
I know you're right at the end of this. You have traveled, if you haven't arrived at the region. Give us an idea on what you -- on what you know at this point.
ANITA FOSTER, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, RED CROSS: Well, we are actually deploying right now. We're actually en route from Dallas - Ft. Worth and from our Red Cross sister chapter down in Austin. We do have a chapter in Waco. So we've got Red Cross people all spread out across Texas. And we're all making our way to the scene. Now, our Waco team is there now. They do have a shelter set up in West and so people do have a safe place to go for tonight. But we know that that's just for tonight. As the sun comes up in the morning, we're going to start seeing what the real needs are and our Red Cross teams will all be in place by sun-up to make sure that we can house these families with whatever they need.
We're seeing, honestly, the same pictures that everyone is seeing on television, and it is heartbreaking. So we want to make sure that we're in place to be sure to get everything that people need to them just as quickly as possible.
CHURCH: And what are the main concerns at this point?
FOSTER: The main concern tonight and into tomorrow is that families that have been evacuated, that they have a safe place to go. That's number one. After we take care of a safe shelter for everyone, we want to make sure that we're taking care of the emotional needs of people, too. This is a horrifying situation that people have been through. And they're going to be, for the first couple of days, just trying to deal with the aftermath of it. But they're going to have a lot of emotion about it. So the Red Cross is going to help people not with just physical things, like making sure that they have meals to eat every day and they've got a place to say, but we're also going to make sure that we help them deal with the emotional feelings that they have. This is a really rocky situation.
CHURCH: So what's --
FOSTER: The other needs will just emerge as we get on the scene and figure out exactly what people need.
CHURCH: And give us an idea of the number of shelters that you have set up at this point and the number of people that you are dealing with?
FOSTER: Right. So, so far, we just have one shelter set up in West. But that's not uncommon. It's a pretty small town. To give folks an idea, there are about 2100 people who live in the town of West. It's a pretty small town and it's very family oriented. So everyone really has friends or family or long-time generational relatives that grew up in the same community. So a lot of the folks that were displaced were able to go and stay with other relatives tonight. And that's fantastic. And that would be great for a few days. But, after that, you know, we need to start really looking at how we help families and their needs long-term. So those are the things that are going to come to the forefront in the days ahead.
But, for now, it really is most-important that people that that need a place to go that don't have somewhere else to stay, that they say, no, they can come to the Red Cross.
CHURCH: And, indeed, the horror of this, Anita, as you point out, is people coming to terms with this emotionally. Some of them have lost everything, everything that was in their home. And they've gone to this shelter. They're going to need support. Many of them won't be able to sleep through the night. So what sort of emotional support will they have in the next hour or so, in the hours ahead?
FOSTER: Oh, they'll have a lot of support. The workers, by training and by trade, are really told how to help people deal with their emotions. We're so fortunate to have teams of volunteers that are trained, licensed, professional, mental health practice counselors. So they deal with these sorts of things every day. But they volunteer with us just so that people who go through things like the families of West went through today, they're told to have a conversation with someone. You know, they can express their feelings, too. So there's going to be plenty of opportunity.
But I will tell you, today, it's not -- it's not the day we're likely to see that happen. It's going to be, you know, several days from now before the reality of the situation typically sets in. That's OK. Right now, people need to be concerned about their loved ones, their relatives, concerned about themselves. And we will be working behind the scenes to make sure that we have all of the right systems in place and to help families deal with their emotions just as soon as they're ready to do that.
CHURCH: And many thanks for all of your good work.
Anita Foster, spokesperson for Texas Red Cross, bringing us up the date on the situation there on the ground in West Texas -- John?
VAUSE: We've been talking about the damage that this blast caused, this very, very powerful blast. Take a look at this photograph that was taken by a volunteer firefighter. It was posted to Twitter a short time ago. This is the apartment block that has been referenced by D.L. Wilson. He's the Department of Public Safety -- he's the sheriff. This is a 50-unit apartment block. And D.L. Wilson described it as just being a skeleton. Boy, was he right. The power of that blast basically tearing off the roof of this apartment block, leaving it exposed. This is a 50-unit apartment complex almost totally destroyed there. Not much left at all. Just some of the damage which has been caused by this explosion at a fertilizer plant at West, Texas.
Take a look at that as we take a short break. We'll continue with our coverage here on CNN.
VAUSE: Welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of a fertilizer plant explosion in the small town of West, Texas. So far, there are two confirmed fatalities, but authorities fear that number will rise. More than 150 people have been taken to three local hospitals.
Rescue officials say it is still too dangerous to get even close to the plant.
CHURCH: So here's what we know so far about the explosion. Officials say 10 to 15 buildings, mostly houses, have been totally demolished. 50 homes were heavily damaged. Witnesses say flames engulf a nursing home and an apartment complex. You say the picture there a few minutes ago. More than 60 patients are being treated at the local hospital in Waco. Victims are suffering from broken bones and cuts. And the injuries range from minor to quite serious.
Meanwhile, evacuations continue because there's a potential another explosion. That's the big fear here now.
VAUSE: And talking about the injuries, as we mentioned, about 150 people have been taken to the hospital.
We'd like to get an update on the situation at the Providence Health Center. And Heather Beck joins us on the line once more. This is in Waco, Texas.
Heather, I understand you have some updated information there about the injuries?
HEATHER BECK, PROVIDENCE HEALTH CENTER (voice-over): Yes, thank you. Currently, we treated 62 patients. We have three in triage and we have 12 admissions. And we do have one patient in critical condition. We've had no confirmed casualties here at Providence at this time.
VAUSE: What are the patients telling you about what happened about their experience, what they went through?
BECK: We're really focusing on treating our patients' injuries. Many of them are in shock. Many of them are stunned and concerned for other loved ones, as well. But we're really focused on just treating their injuries at this point.
VAUSE: When you talk about the people you're treating, is it people of all ages? Is it very young to the very old?
BECK: Yes, all ages.
VAUSE: And --
BECK: All ages, from young to old.
VAUSE: And is there concern for those elderly residents of the nursing home? Clearly, some of those must have been really frail, and to go through something like this, it must be very difficult.
BECK: Absolutely it is. I've see other reports talking about family members that have made it out of the nursing home, and I know that the nursing home is a big focus. A lot of people helped to evacuate that nursing home.
VAUSE: And we saw a photograph a short time ago, if we could bring it up. This was the apartment complex which was badly damaged. And we can see the destruction that was caused by this blast. I don't know if you have access to CNN right now, but it was a dramatic picture because of the type of blast. Explain to me the type of injuries that something like this causes to the people inside.
BECK: Well, we are seeing injuries consistent with an explosion -- broken bones, cuts from broken glass, bruising, respiratory distress, of course, and then some minor burns, as well.
VAUSE: And they tell me that something like 700 responders are on the scene right now. Does that sound about right?
BECK: I can believe it. The city of West has about 2800 people. And it affects a large portion of that city. So, yes, I believe that number.
VAUSE: Are you concerned about the wind because there are toxic fumes coming from West Texas right now. And I think Waco is about 18 miles from there?
BECK: We are about 26 miles south of West. And the last report I heard was that the winds were moving more southwest, sort of away from us, and that a front is moving this evening that should blow the winds north. Of course, we don't want anyone to get the fumes but, of course, it's a little reassuring that they're not directly headed our way at this time.
VAUSE: Heather, thank you for that. We leave it there. We appreciate your time. We know it is late there. We know you have much to do.
Heather Beck on the line from the Providence Health Center, giving us an update. 62 people now being treated there. Three in triage, three are critical.
CHURCH: John, you mentioned the weather conditions. That's the concern here. They may very well complicate matters at that fertilizer plant. Winds are expected to shift soon.
We want to Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera, who joins us again from the Weather Center.
Ivan, there's a change in the wind, that's the concern. And, as John mentioned, these fumes, this is the worry, too?
IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: If we're talking about fumes. And the plant is north to Waco. The winds are not going to remain out of the south the entire time. We are going to have a wind shift tonight and tomorrow to the north and to the northwest. Not only are we having a wind shift, but this is a potent front coming through. We'll have winds gusting 35 to 40. I'm speaking now in English as far as weather terms here just not to complicate things. The winds are plotted at miles per hour. So 24 miles per hour winds right now out of the south. We're gusting to 35. As that line of thunderstorms comes through, we could have wind gusts in excess of 60, 70 kilometers per hour. I'm expecting that, local time, after 4:00 a.m. tonight, continuing into the early part of the morning. So for those responders coming in -- we talked to the Red Cross -- prepare that you are going to be coming in, into an area with the explosion, with the people that need help, but you are also going to be coming in, into an area of added danger because of the weather.
The boxes you've just seen popping up here in just the last few minutes, that's a severe thunderstorm watch, with good reason, we have nasty thunderstorms rolling through. Just for orientation, here's Dallas. This is the side of the explosion. This is an Air Force base. Those are the thunderstorms there indicating large hail and very nasty winds. All of that will continue to push off to the south and east as we head through tonight, again, especially after 4:00 a.m.
Now, the red boxes, to the north, are rotating thunderstorms here. We have the potential for tornadoes. I don't think it will be that far south, but nevertheless, you don't need winds to rotate to cause damage. And when you have these winds coming through at 60, 70 miles an hour, that's going to be a problem here as everything will push off to the east.
And hopefully, Rosemary and John, we'll be able to get these folks, as I know we will, into shelters. The temperatures, right now in the 70s, are going to be dropping incredibly throughout the day. This is an unusual front coming through.
Look at the snow into Ohio, Rosemary. Temperatures, as we get through tonight, that is tonight, Thursday night, we're going to be talking about temperatures in the upper '30s. So very cold after that and we do clear out.
CHURCH: Yes, a big concern because we heard from the Red Cross. Cross. We understand that shelter has got people safely away for the night and, of course, protected from these temperatures.
All right, Ivan Cabrera, many thanks. We will, of course, keep checking back in with you -- John?
VAUSE: OK, Rosemary.
The wife of one of the city's volunteer firefighters spoke with our Piers Morgan just a short time ago. Cheryl Marak's story is frightening and heartbreaking. Listen to this.
CHERYL MARAK, WIFE OF VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER (voice-over): Both of my houses are both totally destroyed.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST, PIERS MORGAN: I'm sorry, but you said --
MARAK: My dogs -- I had dogs in the house. It killed my dogs.
MORGAN: I'm so sorry.
MARAK: If my mother wouldn't have been outside, she wouldn't have been able to get in the house.
MORGAN: Your house is completely destroyed?
MARAK: Yes. (INAUDIBLE). Yes.
MORGAN: I'm so very sorry for you and your family.
MARAK: And all over town, the windows are blow out all over town.
MORGAN: Do you feel that many people have been killed in this incident?
MARAK: (INAUDIBLE). Right now, I'm sure there is.
MORGAN: I'm so sorry for what's happened to you. Do you have other family in the town or friends?
MORGAN: Have you been able to speak to anybody else?
MARAK: A couple of them. Not everybody but a couple of them has. It's hard to even think. And our phones really are not working very well. I don't know what I'm going to do. Trying to all in to town, it's hard to get through into town.
MORGAN: Where are you speaking to me from at the moment?
MARAK: I'm at my brother's house, about two miles out of town now.
MORGAN: And are many people evacuated, as far as you're aware?
MARAK: Yes, yes, yes. Yes, there was a lot of traffic coming out, trying to get out.
MORGAN: So the people who have been left would be the people who were trapped by the original explosion?
MARAK: Well, I guess (INAUDIBLE). Except for TV, I guess, trying to tell everybody, you know, to leave. But there was a line of cars in every direction coming out.
CHURCH: We are hearing these sorts of tragic stories from this scene of this fertilizer plant where there was this huge explosion.
VAUSE: A city of about 2800 people -- town, really -- when you think about it. Half of it has already been evacuated. It has no gas. It has no electricity. People are outdoors. There are toxic fumes in the air. There is an unknown number of dead, including many, many other people who have been wounded, possibly hundreds, we're hearing, among that total, firefighters, as well. It is uncertain as to what's going to happen with the weather. This is a very fluid story. It continues to develop.
We'll have a lot more on this when we come back after a very short break. You're watching CNN's breaking news.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
ROSEMARY CHURCH: All right. We do want to update you now on the breaking news coming out of Texas. At least two people are dead; possibly many more. We won't know that number for a few hours yet. And this happened, of course, after a fire and huge explosion at a fertilizer plant. It happened in a small town West, Texas, near Waco. This video is said to show a huge secondary explosion after that initial fire. The entire area has been evacuated. Dozens of homes and a nearby apartment complex are leveled. Hospitals are treating at least 150 people injured by the blast. And authorities say the fire is contained at this point but still smoldering. They can't get into it; they can't get near it at this point.
JOHN VAUSE: This was an incredibly powerful blast. And a short time ago, one witness described what it felt like.
CHRYSTAL ANTHONY, WITNESS OF BLAST: It was on fire. It was a real heavy blaze. And then just all of a sudden it just exploded. And it blew everything within what 50, 60 feet or maybe farther than that, back. So it was an apartment complex that was devastated, the nursing home. The fire was close to a residential area.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: And Chrystal, how far away were you?
ANTHONY: Not even 100 yards.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Not even 100 yards. I don't know if you just heard what Barry said, who is someone who lives near you, about a mile away. He said it felt like a bomb in his backyard. One of their windows were blown out in their house.
ANTHONY: Yes. A lot of the windows ...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: I can't imagine how much worse it must have been where you are.
ANTHONY: Yes I was close. I live by there.
ROSEMARY CHURCH: Well right now authorities are concerned about a chemical. It's called anhydrous ammonia. This is what we know about it. It's used as a fertilizer; anhydrous ammonia is a pungent gas with suffocating fumes; and it's composed of nitrogen and hydrogen. Now the US government doesn't classify anhydrous ammonia as a flammable substance in normal concentrations, but of course in industrial situations like this one we're dealing with, it becomes dangerous. And the presence of other combustible material makes it even more volatile.
Now one of the main concerns right now at the scene is the air quality. And hundreds of fire fighters and other first responders may be breathing in the hazardous chemicals that are around. And chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper and to Erin Burnett about the dangers; take a listen.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: As soon as you hear "fertilizer" you think about some very combustible and potentially explosive chemicals including ammonia nitrate. And we've heard about fertilizer explosions in the past, this is always a concern, and besides the blast injury itself, which sounds like it was pretty significant, I think you said you were talking to someone who even a couple of miles away they felt the impact of this, and also worry about the burn, the flash effects and also just this chemical itself. I think one of the people - the guard was wearing respirators ...
ANDERSON COOPER: They saw State police were wearing respirators, aspirators ...
GUPTA: That would not surprise me just because the air in that area is probably going to quickly become a concern when you have these sorts of chemicals, explosives, and now being released in the air in great quantities. So, we've seen these types of explosions in the past and those are pretty standard protocols. Frankly with all the blast injuries that we've been talking about this week with regard to what's happened in Boston, those same sorts of injuries you have to be concerned of that here as well.
ANDERSON COOPER: Obviously fertilizer is used in explosive devices so you can understand why it would be so flammable.
GUPTA: Yes and we talked about ammonia nitrate and one of it's primary uses is fertilizer but it's other primary use is in explosives. So fertilizer plants are always a concern for that reason.
ERIN BURNETT: And we were talking a little bit about where it's located. We were talking to someone who was two miles away and someone one mile away and, you know, glass windows blown out. We're describing a rural area but there was an apartment complex, there was a school and a nursing home. I know that you don't know everything about fertilizer plants and where they're located, but would it be unusual for it to be located near a nursing home, apartment complex?
GUPTA: Yes, that's a fair question. But I could tell you one thing. Besides the obvious physical damage to the nursing home, the air quality in there. This is of no small concern, I imagine, in addition to trying to rescue people in that nursing home, the rescue workers themselves my guess is they will have to be fully protected and quickly try and get clean air and oxygen to people who are potentially, I guess, maybe trapped I heard earlier in that nursing home.
JOHN VAUSE: This was an incredibly powerful explosion and it's damaged or flattened dozens, maybe 60 homes. It has also damaged a nursing home. And we're also told that it has essentially stripped bare a 50-unit apartment block. This is a photograph which was on Twitter. And it was posted by a volunteer firefighter not far from the fertilizer plant. This is a small town; everything seems to be very close together. This is why the police are describing the scene as something out of a - being just like Iraq, maybe like the Murray building in the Oklahoma City bombing as well.
Let's find out more about what's happening right now in west Texas. Chris Sadeghi from the KXAN network joins us on the phone. Chris, you're there in west Texas right now, what's happening at the moment?
CHRIS SADEGHI, JOURNALIST: Well we're actually at a hotel that has been booked solid for the night. I talked to the hotel management they said after this explosion they got a lot of people - people who obviously don't have homes for the night; maybe not even once the scene is cleared. They came in, they booked up these rooms. They called in some of their employees to come help them. There are a few shelters set up in surrounding communities. They are evacuating a five mile radius around the plant. That is because of, as you mentioned earlier, the potential for toxic fumes. I did talk to one woman who lived at that apartment complex you were mentioning. She said that this plant has had fires before, being a fertilizer plant, but they've always been real small. That this one that started today was much bigger than any they've ever seen; still they were just watching it, there didn't appear to be any danger, until the explosion that shook the ground and even registered on the Richter scale here almost as if it were an earthquake. That's when homes started to collapse, that's when that apartment building collapsed. She said she just started running. She saw some people with injuries. We don't know yet how many people suffered an injury, we don't know yet what the total fatality count may be but it looks like it certainly has been a very significant strike damage that this explosion has caused.
JOHN VAUSE: Yes, absolutely. Chris can - one thing that we're hearing is that the emergency crews at this hour continue to go house to house, continue to look for anyone who may be wounded, anyone who may have been killed. What more can you tell us?
SADEGHI: Well I can tell you that when we got here, we were quickly turned back around. There are plenty of red and blue flashing lights, there's a lot of responders out there and that wouldn't surprise me at all. They were trying to make sure that everybody was out of their homes because of the potential danger, not only with those fumes but maybe even the potential for a second explosion; that's something that they're guarding against. They don't know if there's still something combustible down in that plant. But there are a lot of service workers out there right now; they've got a lot of the roads blocked off, it's kind of hard to maneuver around West right now because they've got the roads blocked off; they don't want people going in, they want people coming out.
JOHN VAUSE: You say that the hotel where you're staying is booked up solid. We know that a lot of people have lost their homes over the last few hours. Where else can people go at this point if they have lost their home? If they have been evacuated?
SADEGHI: Yes, that's information that we're still trying to gather. I know that in surrounding communities, nearby Waco which is about 15, 20 miles to the south, there have been a few shelters set up; churches I think are opening their doors to take in people; and also there are some donation centers that are also starting to be set up. So there are places right now where people can go. I think the most pressing challenge right now is getting people to those locations.
JOHN VAUSE: And big picture here Chris, what sort of place is West, Texas? Is it - and I've been to Waco, I've been to Crawford, never made it to West. But it seems like it's what, a typical small Texas town?
SADEGHI: You know it's a very small town; a town of about 2,500 people. Yet even though it's so small, it's a town that a lot of people in Texas know about because their claim to fame is the kolache shop here. They're known for making some of the best kolaches in the State. So I think the town of West has a spot in the heart of a lot of Texans. And when you hear about something happening in West, everybody knows exactly where it's at. It's the place everybody stops if they're driving between Dallas and Austin; they stop, rest and eat kolache. So everybody knows about this town and so a lot of people are familiar with this town, even though it's very small.
JOHN VAUSE: Yes, very quickly Chris, what are you expecting in the next couple of hours, as far as the emergency work there? What are they telling you?
SADEGHI: Well we're just getting information as it comes. We really don't know what they're doing on the other side of town right now where they had it blocked off, other than we suspect they're doing the evacuations. I know at some point we hope to get some firm numbers, who's accounted for, who's injured, how many people are injured, where those people are being taken to receive treatment and hopefully we could get some kind of idea of how many people, you know, were injured and unfortunately maybe even killed.
JOHN VAUSE: Yes. OK Chris, thank you for that. Chris Sadeghi, a reporter with KXAN, on the line there, he is in West, Texas right now. This is obviously still very much breaking news; we don't know much; we know that people have died. We don't have confirmed numbers; we know that 150 people at least have been taken to hospital, and that there has been a lot of damage.
We'll continue to follow this story. We'll bring you any new information as soon as we get it, but for now we'll take a short break.
ROSEMARY CHURCH: Hello, we continue our breaking news. A fire and a huge explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Hospitals are treating more than 150 injured people; there are at least two confirmed fatalities, but authorities are saying that number could go much higher. We won't know that number for a matter of hours yet. And we do want to show you this video; it was posted on KWKT.com. it shows what appears to be a second explosion after the initial fire.
ROSEMARY CHURCH: So you see there what we're dealing with. And residents are being evacuated from the town. There are fears that a second large fertilizer tank may explode. Emergency officials say dozens of homes and an apartment complex have been leveled. We saw a picture of that a little earlier; we might be able to bring that up now, and there are reports too that a school and nursing home have been badly damaged. Rescue workers have been unable to get anywhere near the plant because of course the fire is still smoldering and releasing those toxic chemicals we talked about into the air.
The US Chemical Safety Board is sending a team to Texas to investigate that part of this story. And, of course, I want to show you exactly where this explosion took place. The West Fertilizer Plant is in the small town of West, Texas. It's only 18 miles north of Waco; that's about 28 kilometers. It has a population of about 2,800 people and West, Texas, as you can see - I mean you get an idea of exactly the position here.
All right, I want to go to Glenn Robinson now, Hillcrest Sanders Medical Center, he's the CEO of that center; joins us on the phone now from Waco, Texas. Sir, could you bring us up to date on what the situation is there? The number of people that you are working with, the number of people that have come in; how many people have needed your services there so far?
GLENN ROBINSON, HILLCREST SANDERS MEDICAL CENTER, CEO: Yes Rosemary, so far this evening we have treated here at Hillcrest at our trauma center, more than 100 patients. So far we have no fatalities that we have treated here at this facility. We're just really proud of our emergency personnel and the system how - in which it was worked. As you know, in this profession, the average person on the street would have no idea but we train, we drill and we hope that something like this never happens. But when it does it's certainly rewarding to see the system work so that we can take care of so many people so rapidly. At our facility alone, as I mentioned, we have cared for more than 100. Our sister hospital, Scott & White Memorial in Temple is also a trauma center; they're 30 miles farther to the south; they have treated several. And we have also transferred immediately two pediatric patients we received early in the evening; we knew that they would benefit from our Scott & White Children's Hospital by receiving a higher level of pediatric sub-specialty care.
And then also another community hospital here in Waco has treated probably at least 30 or more patients this evening as well. And they have supported our efforts as we have taken the lead in taking care of the trauma patients. The number of patients coming in at this time has dramatically slowed. We are hearing from command members of emergency personnel on the scene, we are still to expect additional injuries throughout the evening. And so we're prepared to care for those at this time. A number of our patients are in surgery and a couple more are getting ready to go to surgery and they're being assessed - their diagnostics and everything are being completed prior to them going to surgery.
ROSEMARY CHURCH: It is indeed a relief to hear at this point you have not dealt with any fatalities. Tell us though about these patients that are undergoing surgery at this point, what sort of injuries are being treated? ROBINSON: Most of the injuries that we have seen here this evening are injuries that would be associated with a blast of this size - with an explosion. We're seeing a lot of lacerations, we're seeing a lot of contusions, we're seeing some broken bones but that is probably the most common type of injury that we're seeing.
ROSEMARY CHURCH: Have you been surprised? When you look at the pictures, particularly the picture we were able to show our viewers, of that 30-unit apartment block and when you hear news of the nursing home being affected by this fire and blast, are you surprised that you haven't been dealing with any fatalities at this point?
ROBINSON: Well certainly, you know, when you see pictures like that it certainly takes your breath away and I would venture to say that probably before the night is over we will continue to see some of those that hopefully will be located inside the rubble and we are prepared and standing by and ready to take care of those as well and hopefully we will continue to see sensible treatment of those that are seriously injured that may still come our way this evening.
ROSEMARY CHURCH: Glenn Robinson of Hillcrest Sanders Medical Center, many thanks to you for talking with us; we know that this is a very busy and difficult time for you and we'll let you get back to your work there. Appreciate it.
Rosemary, let's go back to West, Texas. CNN's Martin Savidge joins us now on the line from West, Texas; he's made his way to this small town. Buddy, we know it's late there, it's 10-to-2 in the morning local, time 10-to-3 in the morning Eastern. What can you see? What's the scene around you?
MARTIN SAVIDGE: Well I can guarantee you John, nobody in this small community is sleeping tonight. Not in light of what has happened. We're located at the command post which has been set up, I guess you could say, in typical Texas fashion. It is located at what is normally a cattle auction site. So you have this massive gathering of both media, and police and fire but in the background, you got a lot of cows, so you hear the mooing and them going, it makes for an unusual combination with the background of this very tragic scene. Right now we're anticipating that there will be more updates throughout the night. These press briefings seem to pop up. Officially we're told there's another one scheduled for later today but again there are some who just come to the line and give us bits and pieces of information, most of which you've already been sharing. The scene here is, I won't say "chaotic." There is an organized kind of chaos going on. The command post, which is actually set up inside a trailer, is where authorities appear to be getting information from first responders and those who are closest to the site of the blast itself and then they're helping to disseminate that to the media but then there's also inside of this place a small restaurant, there are a number of evacuees that have gone inside there, people telling over and over their harrowing stories of escape or how they felt the blast or how they first knew of the tragedy that's hit their neighborhood. About half of the town has been evacuated and I got to tell you John, the concern among many here is that weather is going to be moving in here. The wind has been blowing very fiercely throughout the night but it's primarily from one direction. The fear is now, with weather moving in, it will change direction and that could mean that the fumes and that anhydrous ammonia, which is what they fear most from that fertilizer plant, could move in a different direction forcing more evacuations and forcing more people to flee. But that is pretty much the scene now. It's dark; it's headlights that illuminated amongst some emergency lighting. The flag here is at half-staff. And the community is definitely on edge. John?
JOHN VAUSE: Have you had a chance to speak with many people there; have they told you exactly how they've managed to survive this?
MARTIN SAVIDGE: Most of them are just how they heard it, how they felt it some people have said that - one young man said how he was literally blown off his feet as a result of the explosion. There had been reports, of course, that there was a fire at the plant but then it was about ten minutes later witnesses say that there was this massive explosion. If you've seen any of the video of the concussive force alone was spectacular let alone the fire ball that some people have described, 100 feet across, and you could imagine the devastating impact that would have had on structures that were nearest, among them a school, an apartment building and a nursing home. And, of course, that's where the first responders are now combing through the wreckage, the rubble to see if there are people trapped to be rescued; rescuing those still alive, of course, but the primary concern for the bomb up, John.
JOHN VAUSE: Marty, you were in Iraq. We heard from V. L. Wilson who's the Sheriff there, he's told us that this is a scene just like Iraq, would you agree with him?
MARTIN SAVIDGE: Well, you know, I have not been up. I've seen the photos; we're not allowed to get close for obvious reasons, for safety for our own - and for not interfering with emergency responders, but from looking at those photographs that I have seen, you know, the impact is huge. Whether it was a combination of the blast or the fire that was seen to follow, when you can entirely turn a 50-unit apartment building into just a skeleton structure, of course, it is remnants of anything you might find in a war zone. The people here were in no way prepared and this is not something that anybody had anticipated but it's been a devastating blow to this community.
The first responders, the headquarters people say that they do have enough help; that the EMS team, the firefighters and other emergency personnel have been showing up from well over 100 miles away so they believe they've got enough personnel on hand for the job that they need to do right now. Of course, being the middle of the night, they're hampered by darkness as well; weather's going to be a problem later. So when daylight comes that's really when they can begin to even asses just how broad an area has been impacted and what more needs to be done.
JOHN VAUSE: This fire at the plant is still smoldering. We're told it's still burning and there are noxious toxic fumes involved. Can you smell it? Is there a definite smell in the air?
MARTIN SAVIDGE: Well again the wind - and I guess this is probably a plus, is really blowing. And I would say that it's blowing at 15 maybe 20 miles an hour sometimes gusts are higher, so that is probably going to help to dissipate. One of the concerns that we have with this particular ammonia - anhydrous ammonia is the fact that it apparently will cling close to the ground. So with this wind it is hopeful that that would push any of these fumes away from collecting in any one place.
With that said, you know, you have another tank that's supposedly is in tact; that's got to be a concern. Whether the winds here will fan the flames in some way that could make that fire more difficult that remains to be seen. You can't see signs of fire, but as you were driving in from the highway there is, you know, definitely this kind of a grayish pall, even in a black sky, it is quite visible. So you know you've come to the area where the tragedy is unfolding, John.
JOHN VAUSE: And Marty, finally, we know that about half the town has been evacuated, it's a town of 2,800 people, do the math, that's 1,400 people, so we're now looking at hundreds of people who now need somewhere to go. What arrangements are being put in place for them?
MARTIN SAVIDGE: Yes, well, you know, these are early hours. I'm sure that's being worked on. Right now, of course, the primary effort is to rescue those who can still be saved. Waco's not that far away, there are hotels, there are shelters that are opening up and knowing Texas as I do, it isn't long before the churches start opening up and people's homes start welcoming up and welcoming in neighbors and strangers to help them in this time of need. I think they will be able to cope with this influx.
Fortunately, it's not a massive amount of people. But it's still horrific for those who have been impacted. And it's going to be something that probably changes.
Now, we know that some of the people that have been forced to evacuated are going to be gone for a long time. I believe from the reports, anywhere from 50-60 homes have been devastated. we talked about that apartment building -- already, there are people who have semi-permanently been displaced because of the damage that's been done. Others may be temporarily displaced because of the concerns for any types of fumes. Once that has dissipated, maybe they can return home.
Rreally now, John, it is so early, the concern is looking after those who are injured. that is the primary focus.
VAUSE: Okay. Thank you, Marty. Marty Savidge on the line. He is now in West, Texas, bringing us up to date with the very latest from the scene of this blast. Marty was at the command center there. One thing that he did say is there are literally hundreds of first responders on the scene right now dealing with this emergency.
And we will take a short break here. We'll continue to watch CNN's rolling coverage on this breaking news from West, Texas.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN: And welcome come back to our breaking news on CNN.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN: I'm John Vause. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
We're following major breaking news at this hour. A fire and a huge explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Residents are being evacuated from the town of West, Texas, after a fire at the West fertilizer plant triggered a huge exploion.
Hospitals are treating more than 150 people. There are at least two confirmed fatalities, but numbers can go much higher.
We'd like to show you this video, which was posted on KWKT.com, and it appears to show what is the initial fire and the secondary explosion.
(PLAY VIDEO CLIP)
The blast shows a plume of smoke in the air. And the U.S. geological survey says the blast was a magnitude 2.1.