Death toll expected to climb as ATF agents arrive on scene of fe - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

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Death toll expected to climb as ATF agents arrive on scene of fertilizer plant explosion

Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are converging on the scene of Wednesday evening's fertilizer plant explosion, near Waco. The death toll is also expected to rise as authorities begin what they say will be a lengthy investigation

In an early morning press conference, Waco Police Department officials said fatalities could be as high as 15, resulting from the massive blast at the West, Texas plant. Public Information Officer Sgt. Patrick Swanton said that number could climb, as more than 160 victims were transported to local hospitals with serious or critical injuries. 

Sgt. Swanton also said two emergency workers were confirmed among the dead, and several volunteer firefighters immediately responding to the explosion are reported missing."

According to Sergeant Swanton, the massive blast at the fertilizer plant is being treated as a crime scene until the possibility of wrongdoing is ruled out. They are not saying a crime has occurred, but are not ruling it an industrial accident at this point.

"Until we know it is an industrial accident, we will treat it as a crime scene," Swanton said.

Officials are carefully searching through the rubble in West, TX, for more victims trapped in houses after the major explosion at West Fertilizer devastated much of the small town's downtown area, including dozens of homes, a nursing home and a school. Officials say the blast shook the ground of this community of 2,800 people with the strength of a small earthquake.

Officials are still considering this a search and rescue effort instead of a recovery situation, saying they still hope to find more survivors in the rubble.

The first fire call came in around 7:23 p.m. Wednesday, with the explosion call coming in around 7:53 p.m., according to Swanton.

Air conditions have drastically improved, thanks in large part to early morning rain and winds. Officials are continuing to evacuate residents from the small Texas town. HAZMAT crews have been on the scene testing the air at various locations around the area and near the facility. Officials in Waco have confirmed that the air quality in Waco is fine and their is no need for parents of students that attend Baylor to be concerned.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is sending agency specialists to the site. The team includes fire investigators, explosive experts, chemists, and canine units.

A nursing home near the scene that was in the process of being evacuated because of the fire at the fertilizer plant when the explosion occurred has been cleared, according to the mayor of West, Tommy Mouska.

The Associated Press is reporting that a blood center that serves Central Texas hospitals says donors are greatly needed.

Carter BloodCare said in a statement Thursday that it is sending blood to hospitals treating patients from the explosion in West, near Waco. It says blood "will be in great demand over the next two weeks" as officials work to replenish supplies used after Wednesday's incident.

Click here for a list of places to give blood.

Anyone concerned about the whereabouts of family members can call a special hotline at (254) 826-4115.

We will be live at the scene throughout the day. Stay tuned to KLTV 7 and kltv.com for the latest information from the scene of this deadly explosion.

Copyright 2013 KLTV.com. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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