UPDATE: At least 5 dead in Texas fertilizer plant blast, dozens hurt (Photos, video)

Plant Explosion Texas

LM Otero/AP

Firefighters check a destroyed apartment complex near the fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo made early Thursday, April 18, 2013.

Fertilizer Plant Explosion In West, Texas

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With smoke rising in the distance, a law enforcement officer runs a check point at the perimeter about half a mile from the West Fertilizer Company April 18, 2013 in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer company injured more than 100 people and left damaged buildings for blocks in every direction. The death toll from the blast, which occurred as firefighters were tackling a blaze, is as yet unknown.

A chemical trailer sits among the remains of a fertilizer plant.

Mike Stone/Reuters /Landov

A chemical trailer sits among the remains of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas following a fire and explosion on April 17, 2013.

Fertilizer Plant Explosion In West, Texas

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Blown out plate glass windows lay shattered on the sidewalk and street after the West Fertilizer Company exploded on April 18, 2013 in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer company injured more than 100 people and left damaged buildings for blocks in every direction. The death toll from the blast, which occurred as firefighters were tackling a blaze, is as yet unknown.


UPDATE 11:28 a.m.: Texas Gov. Rick Perry is calling the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in his state "a truly nightmare scenario."

Authorities have said as many as 15 people are feared dead and more than 160 others were injured in the explosion that leveled homes and businesses in the farming community of West, Texas.

Perry emphasized during a Thursday morning news conference that much of the information about victims remains "very preliminary." He says President Barack Obama has offered a quick turnaround of declaring McLennan County an emergency disaster that is eligible for federal aid.

Perry says at least 75 homes were damaged in the blast. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says the explosion Wednesday night knocked people "all over the town" back 10 feet, including some through windows.

You can view an amateur video of the blast below:

PREVIOUSLY: The massive explosion Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas, killed an estimated 5 to 15 people, injured more than 160 others and devastated the town of West, officials said Thursday morning as they tried to piece together what happened.

There are fears that the death toll could be even higher.

West Mayor Tommy Muska, who warned Wednesday night that "there are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow," said at a brief news conference early Thursday morning that "I ask for your prayers." The mayor had earlier described the explosion as being "like a nuclear bomb ... [a] big old mushroom cloud." The force of the explosion was picked up by the U.S. Geological Survey's earthquake monitors: It was the equivalent of a 2.1 magnitude temblor.

The cause of the blast, which as we reported Wednesday night happened as local firefighters were battling a blaze at the plant, had not yet been determined. Waco Police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton told reporters Thursday morning that: "We're not indicating it was a crime, but we don't know. ... Until we know that it was an industrial accident, we will work it as a crime scene."

NPR's John Burnett, who got to the area of the explosion early Thursday, tells our Newscast Desk that: "I spoke to one woman. Her son was playing football at the middle school there and he was lifted up in the air by the force of the explosion. They said they could see glass and debris flying through the air like shrapnel. They said it was the most terrifying experience of their lives." He also spoke to Morning Edition.

The explosion destroyed or damaged dozens of homes, businesses and a nursing home.

Erick Perez, 21, of West was using his cellphone to record the scene from a distance as firefighters tried to put out the blaze. The Associated Press has posted a copy of that video here.

We'll follow this story as the day continues and post updates.

Among other news outlets following the news closely:

Waco Tribune

KUHF

KUT

Dallas Morning News

Note: As happens when stories such as this are developing, there will likely be reports that turn out to be mistaken. We will focus on news being reported by NPR, other news outlets with expertise, and statements from authorities who are in a position to know what's going on. And if some of that information turns out to be wrong, we'll update.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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