April 18, 2013 at 7:46 AM ET
A dad shooting video within 300 yards of the West, Texas fertilizer explosion late Wednesday night described a frightening aftermath of the deadly blast.
“It was a pretty horrific scene, some of the injuries we saw,’’ Derrick Hurtt told Matt Lauer on TODAY Thursday. “There was probably double-digit people standing in front of me videoing that were closer than I was, and after the blast, they were nowhere to be seen.”
At least 15 people were killed and more than 160 wounded in the explosion, according to local police. West Mayor Tommy Muska told NBC News that he feared as many as 40 could have died. Firefighters were battling the fire when the explosion caused a ground tremor equivalent to a magnitude-2.1 earthquake, according to the United States Geological Service. Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared it a disaster, asking for an emergency declaration from the federal government.
Hurtt was shooting video of the fire from his truck alongside his 12-year-old daughter, Khloey. The plant exploded 33 seconds into their clip. Immediately after the blast, Derrick can be heard asking if Khloey is OK. “Please get out of here, please get out of here, dad please get out of here," she says. "I can’t hear anything.”
“I’m pretty sure it lifted the truck off the ground,’’ Hurtt said. “It just blew me over on top of her. It all happened so quick that things just kind of went black for a moment.”
Hurtt said his daughter’s inner ear is sore but she has her full hearing back. He estimated they were 250 to 300 yards away from the plant when they started filming.
“We drove over to check it out and saw that it was a fertilizer plant burning,’’ he said. “We were going to shoot a little video of it and get out of there, and we just didn’t make it out in time.’’
Crystal Jerigan, who lives 15 blocks away from the plant, rushed outside when she heard the emergency trucks drive by. After watching the fire grow out of control within minutes, she ran back inside her home to grab her two daughters.
“About the time that I got to the car, you could hear the boom and within seconds, it just sucked you in and just threw you to the ground,” she told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie.
Jill Jenkins, a triage nurse at a nearby nursing home, rushed to the scene and arrived minutes after the explosion to find a horrific scene.
“It actually looked like 9-11, what you saw on TV with 9-11. There were people laying in their yards that had been blown out of their homes,” she said. “The nursing home looked like it had just been blown kind of out.”
She said a nearby apartment structure remained standing but the interior had been destroyed.
“People were coming out bloody and injured,” she said. Most of the injuries she saw were lacerations and several head injuries.
“We had a lot of help, though,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of great nurses here in West.”
The area is being treated as a crime scene as a precautionary measure, Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton told TODAY.
“There is no reason at this point that indicates that that is what happened, but we’re going down that road to make sure nothing gets missed,” he told TODAY.
Swanton also said authorities continue to go door-to-door to make sure they haven’t missed additional victims.
"We are not giving up on the search and rescue,” he said.
Although residents have expressed concern about potential chemicals released into the air by the blast, Swanton said experts believe the region is safe.
“There is not an environmental hazard at this point, from what I’ve been made aware of,” he said. “The rain obviously will help us a little bit to keep that down, but (this is) something we’re going to watch over the next few hours to make sure nothing gets rekindled.”