Harrington Group is sending our thoughts and prayers out to the small town of West, Texas today in the midst of a devastating tragedy. Last night, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded. Initial estimates say that between five and 15 people are feared to be dead, with that number expected to rise. Hundreds have been injured and as many as 60 local homes and businesses have been destroyed.  The incident began at West Fertilizer Co. at approximately 6pm when volunteer fire fighters arrived to extinguish a fire at the industrial facility. At about 8pm, a massive explosion, thought to be fueled by ammonium nitrate, ripped through the plant. The explosion registered as a 2.1 earthquake and could be felt and heard for up to 45 miles away. The Dallas Morning News reported that, “a four-block area around the explosion’s epicenter was totally decimated, including an apartment building with 50 units that was destroyed.”

D.L. Wilson, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety toured some of the devastated parts of West, Texas and described it as a warzone, “just like Iraq, just like the Murrah building,” Wilson said. The Murrah building was the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh, where 168 people were killed after a truck filled with fertilizer exploded.

Physics professor at City College of New York, Michio Kaku, helped to explain the effects of an ammonia nitrate explosion on “CBS This Morning”. “Ammonia nitrate, released in an accident of this sort, can release the energy of several truckloads of dynamite, enough to set off a 2.1-magnitude earthquake in terms of intensity. The Oklahoma City bombing, for example, was based on one ton of fertilizer. Here, they were licensed to have over 25 tons. So you can imagine the scale, the enormity of what happened.”

The explosion sent a huge fireball into the sky and was followed by a massive mushroom-like cloud. One witness described her experience to WFAA, a CNN affiliate, “It, like, picked you up. It just took your breath away. And then it dropped you and it exploded everything around you…It was like a suction and then it just blew it all out. You could feel everything. You could feel it on your skin, your hair was being blown. It was crazy.”

Officials are unsure if this was an industrial accident or if this was a criminal act. Sergeant W. Patrick Swanton from the Waco Police Department stated, “We are not indicating that it is a crime, but we don’t know…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 federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is conducting the main investigation.”

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board will also deploy a large investigation team to the scene, led by CSB Western Regional Office Director Don Holstrom. The team is scheduled to arrive later this afternoon. The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating chemical accidents, like this incident.

We will continue to follow this tragic incident and post updates as we can. Again, our thoughts and prayers go out to the community of West, Texas.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.