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UPDATE: West, Texas, Blast Site 'Just Like Iraq,' DPS Official Says

Update, 12:15 a.m.: "An unbelievable tragedy" -- that's how D.L. Wilson of the Department of Public Safety described Wednesday night's fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Speaking to the media just after midnight, he added that he'd toured the blast zone, and it looked "just like Iraq, just like the Murrah building in Oklahoma City," which was bombed 18 years ago this week.

Wilson said more than 100 were injured, and he confirmed that people have died, though he gave no number.

Fifty to 75 houses are damaged, he said. A nearby 50-unit apartment complex is "just a skeleton." And a senior citizen home was badly damaged.

Gas to the town has been turned off to avoid additional fires.

Update, 12:05 a.m.: West Intermediate School, which was heavily damaged by Wednesday's blast, was temporarily evacuated two months ago because of an earlier fire outside the fertilizer plant. It turned out to be a coordinated burn of pallets and brush. Here's the school district memo to parents that describes the earlier fire.

Update, 10:25 p.m.: TV station KWKT in Waco has posted a user-submitted video that purports to show the fertilizer plant in flames and then exploding.

Officials have also created a telephone hotline for information: (202) 250-1100.

Our original post: A massive ball of flame and smoke erupted from a fertilizer plant Wednesday night in the town of West, Texas.  The Waco Tribune reports that a number of homes and nearby buildings were destroyed, and television footage showed fire raging from the neighborhood around the plant.

There's no word yet on the number of people hurt.

West Middle School is one of the burning buildings, the newspaper reports. A nearby football field is set up as a triage area.

Bill Bohannan, who was visiting his parents at their house in West, near the plant, told the Tribune that he was visiting his parents near the plant.

“I said, ‘This thing is going to blow’ ... and I told my mom and dad to get in the car,” Bohannan said. “I was standing next to my car with my fiancee, waiting for my parents to come out and (the plant) exploded. It knocked us into the car... Every house within about four blocks is blown apart.”

Traffic on nearby I-35 backed up for miles, and a spokeswoman told WFAA-Channel 8 that schools in West would be closed tomorrow and Friday.

The town of West, population 2,800, is about 20 miles north of Waco and 75 miles southwest of Dallas.

Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.