Texas officials have announced that 12 bodies have been recovered from the site of Wednesday’s deadly blast at West Fertilizer plant.
About 200 people are now thought to have been injured in the blast.
Earlier, the town’s mayor said he believed four firefighters who attended the original fire were among the dead, though this has not been confirmed.
Dozens of buildings were destroyed by the blast in the town of West, near Waco.
Jason Reyes of the Texas Department of Public Safety said search and rescue efforts were ongoing.
Twelve bodies have been recovered from the site of deadly blast at West Fertilizer plant in Texas
The explosion produced a tremor similar to a small earthquake.
There is no indication that the blast and a fire which preceded it were anything other than industrial accidents, according to police.
However, they have said that the site is being treated as a crime scene.
Texas Governor Rick Perry earlier said he was declaring the area a disaster and would request an emergency declaration for federal aid from President Barack Obama, who has offered any help needed.
Air quality and gas pipelines are being monitored for safety, and gas supplies have also been disconnected until any risk has passed.
Emergency services officials earlier said the explosion may have been caused by the chemical ammonia.
The explosion devastated the West Fertilizer Company, about 20 miles north of Waco, in central Texas.
Dozens of homes were levelled and other buildings – including a school and nursing home a few hundred metres from the plant – were badly damaged.
A man accompanied by his child has captured the moment of the huge explosion at West Fertilizer plant in Texas, just yards away from the blast.
The explosion at the fertilizer plant at 7:50 p.m. (CST) on Wednesday has reportedly left many people dead, hundreds injured and caused a nursing home to collapse, trapping residents inside.
An unidentified resident in small town West had parked his car to observe the fire at the plant earlier in the night and was filming the structure as it was engulfed in flames.
All of a sudden, something sparked a massive blast, causing flames to shoot into the sky, rocking the family’s car as the terrified father and child tried to scramble to safety.
“Daddy, I can’t hear,” the child screamed out after the explosion.
A man accompanied by his child has captured the moment of the huge explosion at West Fertilizer plant in Texas
“Get out of here. Please get out of here. Daddy, please get out of here,” the child kept repeating in the terrifying audio.
When the short YouTube clip began, the father was filming the large fire that was burning several hundred yards away at the plant.
He sounds relatively calm as he observes the direction of the wind and its strength.
For about 30 seconds, he captures the burning structure but is totally unaware for the danger that awaits.
Suddenly a massive blast occurs and footage shows flames exploding into the sky and toward the direction of the family’s car.
Shaken by the explosion, the father scrambles to turn his car around and drive in the opposite direction.
The child is heard pleading with the father to leave and get to safety.
There is no information on the identity of the man or the status of the family.
Texas Governor Rick Perry tweeted: “Thoughts and prayers with everyone in West, TX. Thx to all the first responders on the scene.”
West, Texas is located 20 miles north of the town of Waco and 40 miles north of the small community of Crawford, where former president George W. Bush has a ranch.
The town, that has a population of 2,600, is actually located in the central part of the Lone Star state. It is 70 miles south of Dallas.
The community of Waco is mobilizing to respond, as many of the victims have been transported to nearby hospitals.
Up to 15 people are thought to have been killed by the huge explosion at West fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas.
More than 160 people were injured as dozens of homes and buildings were destroyed in the evening blast that witnesses said was “like a tornado”.
Emergency services are still going from home to home trying to find survivors.
A number of firefighters were tackling a blaze at the scene when the explosion happened, and are still missing.
The explosion happened at West Fertilizer on the edge of West, a town of about 2,700 people some 20 miles north of Waco.
Sgt. William Swanton of the Waco police department said he could not give an accurate figure of the number of people killed in the explosion – but estimated between five and 15.
But with a search still going on, other officials suggested the final toll could be significantly higher.
Up to 15 people are thought to have been killed by the huge explosion at West fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas
Sgt. William Swanton said at least 160 people had been treated at various hospitals.
He said the blast site was being treated as a crime scene – but this was procedural and he had “no indications this was anything other than an accidental fire”.
Emergency services officials said ammonia may have caused the explosion.
It has been reported the company had 54,000 lbs (20 tonnes) of anhydrous ammonia on site.
Police earlier said the half the town had been evacuated, amid fears of possible further explosions or a leak of toxic gas – though at his press conference just before 06:00 local time, Sgt. William Swanton said he did not believe there was a threat from air quality.
The West Fertilizer plant is right on the edge of town, only a few hundred metres from houses, a school and nursing home.
Several witnesses describe rushing to the nursing home to help residents, only to find it flattened – though it appears many people had already been evacuated because the fire was recognized as an explosion risk.
TV images showed streams of emergency vehicles descending on the site and ambulance crews using a nearby sports field as an emergency treatment area. The injured were being carried to hospital not just in ambulances but in police squad cars and helicopters.
Glenn A. Robinson, chief executive of Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, told CNN the hospital was seeing “everything from orthopaedic injuries to patients that are experiencing serious blood loss”.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said: “It’s a lot of devastation. I’ve never seen anything like this. It looks like a war zone with all the debris.”
Witness Debby Marak told the Associated Press news agency that she had seen smoke coming from the area near the plant and had driven over to see what was happening.
She said that when she arrived, two boys ran towards her screaming that the authorities had told them to leave because the fertilizer plant was going to explode.
Debby Marak said she drove a short distance before the blast happened.
“It was like being in a tornado,” she said.
“Stuff was flying everywhere. It blew out my windshield. It was like the whole earth shook.”
Another resident told KWTX-TV that she heard several explosions from 13 miles away.
The Dallas Morning News reported that West Fertilizer had told the Environmental Protection Agency that it presented no risk of fire or explosion.
The newspaper said it had seen documents in which the plant said it stored large amounts of anhydrous ammonia, but the worst scenario envisaged was a release of ammonia gas that would harm no-one.
The explosion came almost on the anniversary of another ammonia explosion disaster in Texas.
On April 16, 1947, a fire on a ship loaded with ammonium nitrate set off a series of explosions in the port of Texas City, and fires that burned for days. More than 500 people were killed and more than 1,000 buildings damaged in what remains the deadliest industrial accident in US history.
What is anhydrous ammonia?
- Commonly used as fertilizer, injected into the soil
- Must be stored in high pressure tanks
- Produces poisonous vapor cloud on exposure to water
- Forms explosive mixture when combined with air
- Can cause severe burns to skin in concentrated form
Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)