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Remembering the 2013 West fertilizer plant explosion, fire

FILE - This April 18, 2013 aerial file photo, shows the remains of a nursing home, left, apartment complex, center, and fertilizer plant, right, destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Images of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital looked depressingly familiar to West, Texas Mayor Tommy, whose small town in 2013 was partly leveled by one of the deadliest fertilizer plant explosions in U.S. history. "I don't know what people were thinking about storing that stuff," Muska said, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
FILE - This April 18, 2013 aerial file photo, shows the remains of a nursing home, left, apartment complex, center, and fertilizer plant, right, destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Images of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital looked depressingly familiar to West, Texas Mayor Tommy, whose small town in 2013 was partly leveled by one of the deadliest fertilizer plant explosions in U.S. history. "I don't know what people were thinking about storing that stuff," Muska said, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File) (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

HOUSTON – The fertilizer plant explosion and fire in West, Texas, happened on April 17, 2013, killing 15 people and causing hundreds of injuries among the rural area’s 2,800 people.

Here’s a look at NBC footage of the explosion from eyewitnesses.

So what happened? Here’s a look back at the explosion, as it happened with animations, from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

The explosion flattened the farming community, just north of Waco, turning some 500 homes into rubble as residents tried desperately to flee the horrific scene. More than 200 people were injured, NBC News reported.

The force felt was equivalent to that of a magnitude-2.1 earthquake, and a 93-foot-wide crater scarred the site of the fertilizer plant, where dangerous chemicals, including ammonium nitrate, were stored.

FILE - In this April 18, 2013 file photo, mangled debris of the West Fertilizer Co. plant is seen, a day after an explosion leveled the plant in West, Texas. Images of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital looked depressingly familiar to West, Texas Mayor Tommy Muska, whose small town in 2013 was partly leveled by one of the deadliest fertilizer plant explosions in U.S. history. "I don't know what people were thinking about storing that stuff," Muska said, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File) (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)
FILE - This April 18, 2013 aerial file photo, shows the remains of a nursing home, left, apartment complex, center, and fertilizer plant, right, destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Images of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital looked depressingly familiar to West, Texas Mayor Tommy, whose small town in 2013 was partly leveled by one of the deadliest fertilizer plant explosions in U.S. history. "I don't know what people were thinking about storing that stuff," Muska said, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File) (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)
Damage in West, Texas, is seen on April 18, 2013, a day after a fertilizer plant explosion. (Getty Images)

Ten first responders and two volunteers were among those killed while fighting the initial blaze before the blast occurred just before 8 p.m. local time.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board released its final report about the blast in 2016. It determined the plant explosion and fire was “one of the most destructive incidents ever investigated” by the board, finding issues with regulatory oversight, hazard awareness, emergency planning and response, fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate storage practices and land use planning and zoning which enabled housing to be located so close to the plant.

Read the final report here (PDF).

Other reports in the wake of the disaster were released including this one from the Texas Fire Marshall’s Office (PDF).

A state bill HB 942 passed in 2015 in response to the West disaster. The law adjusted guidelines for ammonium nitrate storage facilities. The law says, among other things, that the operator of a facility storing ammonium nitrate used in fertilizer must give notice to the state and local emergency entities and the facility must be examined by a fire marshal and the substance be kept separate by at least 30 feet from other materials.

Other issues, such as unidentified chemical facilities across the country, remain an issue that has been discussed. Somewhat connected to this issue -- efforts to improve the Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Standards program -- the nation’s first regulatory program focused specifically on security at high-risk chemical facilities -- continue through recent years with one program focusing particularly on ammonium nitrate, the chemical at the center of the West disaster.


About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, social media news and local crime.