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Fertilizer Plant Explodes Near Waco, Killing Up to 15

Terrorism not suspected, police say; 2.1 magnitude blast devastated small town.

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A Wednesday night explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant in West, Texas, killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 180, local police say. It's possible the casualty count will climb.

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The disaster started shortly after 7:30 p.m. EDT when firefighters arrived at the plant to extinguish a fire, according to local TV station NBC 5. The plant exploded about 23 minutes later.

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NBC reports that, as of Thursday morning, 101 people are being treated at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center and another 65 explosion victims are at Providence Hospital. Both hospitals are in Waco. Four other hospitals in the area confirmed to NBC a total of eight other patients.

At a morning briefing Thursday Waco Police Department Sgt. William Patrick Swanton offered the approximate death count, saying, "I know that's a rough estimate, but that's the best that I can give you," ABC News reports.

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"We are not indicating that it is a crime, but we don't know," Swanton said, according to ABC. "What that means to us is that until we know that it is an industrial accident, we will work it as a crime scene. [The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] is conducting the main investigation."

Two first responders are among the dead and three to five firefighters remain unaccounted for, West EMS director Dr. George Smith told the Dallas Morning News around 4 a.m. local time Thursday morning.

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"It was a small fire and then water got sprayed on the ammonium nitrate, and it exploded just like the Oklahoma City bomb," local hotel clerk Jason Shelton told the Morning News. "I live about a thousand feet from it and it blew my screen door off and my back windows. There's houses leveled that were right next to it."

The explosion damaged dozens of buildings in the town, including a local school. West recorded a population of under 3,000 people in the 2010 U.S. Census.

Although there is no indication that the explosion was a crime, the blast happened just three days after the deadly bomb explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Footage of the explosion:

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