TODAY   |  April 18, 2013

Police expect Texas explosion casualties to rise

Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton talks about the continuing rescue effort in the wake of the explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant, saying the number of victims will “almost certainly rise.” At least 160 have been treated at local hospitals.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> first, let's get to sergeant w. patrick swanton, he's got an update on that deadly explosion in the town of west, texas. thank you for being with us, sir.

>> good morning, you're welcome.

>> we've heard a death toll anywhere between 5 and 15, the number of injuries 160 or more. do you expect those numbers to rise?

>> i think most certainly we will see those rise somewhat. we know at this point we've had at least 160 individuals that have been treated in local hospitals. we're thinking that the casualty toll at this point is between 5 and 15. we're hoping for the best, obviously, but preparing for the worst.

>> sergeant, we've seen some early video of the neighborhood surrounding that plant, nursing home damaged homes destroyed. are you still in the process of searching for some people who may be missing?

>> yeah. absolutely. we are not giving up on the search and rescue . we are continuing to do that procedure at this point. i can tell you that our county sheriff 's department is on the ground here. they have troops going home to home to home. business to business. we're doing door-to-door searches. we have the atf, state fire marshal is here, numerous agencies, first responders, fire departments , as well. and we're continuing our search and rescue efforts.

>> recognizing this is an unfolding scene, sir, do you have any information about a potential cause here? and i believe i've heard some say this is being treated as a crime scene if for any other reason just out of an abundance of caution. what can you tell us about that?

>> yeah, and that's absolutely right. we want to make sure that we have the investigative means we have here. and we've got that. we have federal help with atf, numerous law enforcement agencies are here assisting state fire marshal as i said. at this point, we are starting the investigation, or they are starting the investigation looking at it as a potentially criminal event. there is no reason at this point that indicates that is, in fact, what happened. but we're going down that road to make sure that nothing gets missed. at some point, it possibly could or will turn into an industrial accident . again, no reason at this point to believe there has been criminal activity , but we're going to investigate it and make sure that's not the case.

>> and sergeant, one more before we let you go. we've seen footage of the destruction still smoldering. is there a health risk to the people in that area and to the first responders and recovery personnel from the kinds of fumes that are coming out of that plant right now?

>> i can tell you initially, absolutely. some of the responding officers that have been with me for the evening were complaining their eyes burning, skin burns. the plant had what is known as anhydrous ammonia. it is a very irritating substance. at this point, the last i've heard, there was a small fire continuing in the fertilizer plant. however, it was contained and somewhat controlled. still an issue for us until we get it totally out. and we have the entire area secured. there is not an environmental hazard at this point from what i've been made aware of. the rain, obviously, will help us a little bit to keep that down. but something we're going to watch over the next few hours to make sure nothing gets rekindled.

>> sir, thank you for joining us on a very busy morning for you. and best luck in your efforts, sir.