West Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion: Emergency Declaration 'Forthcoming,' Gov. Rick Perry Says

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday that an emergency declaration is “forthcoming” from President Obama after the West Fertilizer Co. plant caught fire and exploded Wednesday night.

Such a declaration, for McLennan County, Texas, would enable the state to receive federal aid.

During a news conference Thursday afternoon, Perry called the West explosion “a very tragic, difficult 16 hours for all of us.”

West is without electrical power following the explosion that killed between 5 and 15 people and injured dozens. Perry did not give an update as to the number of casualties in the fire and resulting explosion.

“At this point, much of the information that we have is still very preliminary,” the governor said.

The Texas national guard and other state agencies are “assisting with an active search and rescue operation” in West, Perry said. The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality is monitoring air quality in the area since ammonium nitrate was released into the air from the explosion.

Gas lines to homes in West have been disconnected and pipelines are “being monitored,” Perry said.

“Last night was truly a nightmare scenario for that community,” the governor said. “West is a really small community -- just a few thousand people. Anyone who grew up … in a small town like West, they know that this tragedy has most likely hit every family. It’s touched practically everyone in that town.”

The fertilizer plant, which was built in 1962, was never levied any fines from the state, but the facility did receive a complaint in 2006 from a nearby homeowner who reported a strong ammonia smell, according to Zac Covart, head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did fine the company $2,300 for not filing a risk-management plan in 2006.

Covart said the plant did not have a permit at the time of the complaint, but quickly rectified the situation.

“In resolving the complaint, we got them into compliance by getting the authorizations there,” he said.

As far as air quality in West, Covart said there was a “slight detection of particulate matter” in the area but said it was “not of concern.”

He said the agency was “getting non-detection” of toxic substances because there has been rainfall in West.

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