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Huge Explosion at Texas Fertilizer Plant 422

Posted by Soulskill
from the find-safety dept.
A massive explosion took place around 8:50pm ET at a fertilizer plant in a small town in Texas. The cause of the explosion is not precisely known, but the plant was on fire beforehand. The casualty reports are tentative and expected to rise, but two people are dead and over 150 are injured. Firefighters responding to the initial fire are unaccounted for. Over a thousand residents have been evacuated from their homes. Officials are worried about the volatility of another tank at the plant, but also about the potential damage from exposure to anhydrous ammonia. The blast was heard in Dallas, 75 miles away. "There are lots of houses that are leveled within a two-block radius. A lot of other homes are damaged as well outside that radius." A brief YouTube video shows the explosion of the plant.
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Huge Explosion at Texas Fertilizer Plant

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  • How Tragic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @02:30AM (#43480281)
    Fertilizer plants are dangerous places. I am surprised that in such a sparsely populated part of Texas the plant wasn't further away from houses.
    • Re:How Tragic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @02:57AM (#43480395) Homepage Journal

      I think its a bit like Bhopal, where an economy grew up around the plant.

    • Re:How Tragic (Score:5, Informative)

      by thegarbz (1787294) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @02:59AM (#43480405)

      As always it likely would have been at the time. Then as the town expanded the plant would have been suddenly across the road. We've gone through the battles with town planners near a refinery here in Brisbane for the same reason. It's apparently prime land, yeah 500m from a 50t supply of HF acid.

      • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @04:13AM (#43480685)

        Quite often when you see something, even something not particularly dangerous but more annoying like an airport, that is in a populated area and say "Why the hell didn't they build it out in the middle of nowhere?" the answer is often that they did. When they built it, there was nothing around, but things grew up around it, or grew nearer and nearer to it.

        You watch an area over a couple decades and it can go from "a whole lot of nothing" to "very developed".

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Back when I was a kid we had a flour mill not more than two blocks from my house(about 0.1km). Within roughly 0.25km there was also a highschool and a middleschool, and a grade school around 0.15km from it. Back before we moved to the same area, there was also a fertilizer plant just down the road roughly 0.3km. Industrial plants like what I mentioned and others, it wasn't all that uncommon for houses to spring up near where people worked.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Vintermann (400722)

      I hear Texas isn't so cool with strict zoning laws.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      Fertilizer plants are dangerous places. I am surprised that in such a sparsely populated part of Texas the plant wasn't further away from houses.

      Knowing that the facility produced a product that could be explosive (especially after the Oklahoma City bombing by Tim McVeigh), they could have and indeed should have taken some engineering steps to protect not just workers but also the surrounding town.

      I happen to live somewhat near the ATK facility which used to make the solid rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle and also makes the fuel used in other solid rocket missiles used by the military. It is intentionally put out in the middle of nowhere with

      • Re:How Tragic (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Overzeetop (214511) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @07:02AM (#43481283) Journal

        No, it will be ignored. I once reviewed a school in West Virginia and when I was done, I told the owner that his floors were only rated for about 1/2-2/3 of what they should be for a school building. He'd built the thing himself (it was constructed much like a pole barn) and hosted underprivileged city kids for year round programs, teaching them about the outdoors. His response: "We don't have codes in WV, I just need to know that it's safe."

        I told him they had basically the same code as everywhere in the US (the International Building Code), but his county simply chose not to spend any money on enforcement. I also mentioned that if anything happened to the building, he would be held personally liable - as the builder - for violating the state building code. I wished him luck and went on my way. I no longer practice engineering in WV - it's just not worth it, as it's several hundred dollars a year to keep my license up.

        Building codes don't address explosions like this. Even OSHA doesn't really have much way to require safety measures that would save people if an explosion occurred. BATFE isn't involved in fertilizer (afaik), though even in a manufacturing facility BATFE regs won't save people in the process area. These people will have died and their legacy will be nothing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 18, 2013 @02:32AM (#43480289)

    It was detected by seismic networks [usgs.gov]. Note that the most common reason for "earthquakes" at zero depth is a quarry explosion, so that's how they initially labeled it. They've since changed it to read simply "Explosion". Click the "did you feel it link" and you can see that some people felt it as if it were an earthquake. Strangely, they are north of the event. Either the waves propogated that way, or people south of the event saw the cloud and realized it was an explosion not a quake.

    • by Aranykai (1053846)

      Well, North of Waco is many many times more populous than south of Waco, so that doesn't really surprise me.

      Still, interesting that it was picked up that far away. I still cant grasp how big the bang must have been.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 18, 2013 @08:47AM (#43482017) Journal

      It was detected by seismic networks [usgs.gov]. Note that the most common reason for "earthquakes" at zero depth is a quarry explosion, so that's how they initially labeled it. They've since changed it to read simply "Explosion". Click the "did you feel it link" and you can see that some people felt it as if it were an earthquake. Strangely, they are north of the event. Either the waves propogated that way, or people south of the event saw the cloud and realized it was an explosion not a quake.

      Here is how it looked dangerously close [youtube.com] (warning, the people taking this video were way too close so if you can't stomach listening to young girl in complete fear, don't watch that video all the way through) I'm guessing and hoping those people are okay being that the video is on YouTube.

  • or is it related to the Boston bomb attack..?
    • by sg_oneill (159032)

      Unlikely. Factory fires (This started off as a fire) happen all the time. This one was just unfortunate enough to happen where a metric shit tonne of amonium nitrate happened to be.

      • How much is that in imperial fuckloads?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by VortexCortex (1117377)

        Unlikely. Factory fires (This started off as a fire) happen all the time. This one was just unfortunate enough to happen where a metric shit tonne of amonium nitrate happened to be.

        This wasn't an "unfortunate" accident. This was the result pure unabashed incompetence and greed. It's not like we don't know how far to space apart caches of volatile stuff having a high energy density in order to prevent massive explosions like this. For fuck's sake, do you think even the morons who sign up for the military would put ammo reserves all in one giant pile for safe keeping? No, that's fucking stupid. Stupid and a bit less expensive, but mostly stupid. The fire was an accident, but the

    • Re:Coincidence? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@Nos ... t-retrograde.com> on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:08AM (#43480851)

      [Coincidence] or is it related to the Boston bomb attack..?

      Yes. Timing was Coincidental and it was related to the Boston bomb attack: While the terrorist attack in Boston will likely result in less rights for civilians, the West, TX explosion won't cause corporations to be beholden to even basic zoning restrictions; The Boston explosions were committed by a small group of terrorists with the intent to kill, and strike fear into hearts of citizens, but the West explosion were caused by a large corporation on accident, and we should be terrified of their general recklessness, but we aren't. The Boston attack, like most terrorist threats, would have been exceedingly hard to prevent (esp. without stripping away the rights of all citizens), yet most all of the West, TX explosion injuries and casualties could have been easily avoidable by requiring such plants spend the money to relocate further from the towns they cause to spring up as they get filthy fucking rich. The perpetrator(s) of the Boston explosions may be found and put to justice for their crimes, but the rich bastards who are responsible for the West, TX explosion will get a sympathetic pat on the back, and at least a tax break in losses from Uncle Sam. The terrorists wounded many in their Boston attack, but the West, TX explosion was far more lethal and devastating. People will get right fucking pissed off about the terrorist attack in Boston, but they'll exhibit a disproportionate response of only remorse for the victims of the TX explosion.

      So, you see, they are inversely related.

  • That was one big freakin explosion. The cameraman must have been at least a couple of hundred meters away and flaming debris was zipping past him almost instantly. Still it's a fertiliser plant, explosive by its very nature, no reason to think there's any connection between this and Boston. Yet.

  • by thegarbz (1787294) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:03AM (#43480415)

    Not quite on the same scale and completely lost in the news of this explosion there was a fire at Exxon in Beaumont [nasdaq.com] with 12 people injured. Not a good day for Texas industry.

  • Is this nerd news? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bearhouse (1034238)

    Interesting that just the other day we were discussing here about "exploitation" of social media sites etc. to drive traffic to "tech" sites after the Boston bombs.
    Here we have links to BBC, CNN & even Youtube?
    I assume like many /;ers I already get my "mainstream" news from the BBC etc. Do we need this?

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      I think it's probably seen as "stuff that matters" because of heightened paranoia following the Boston Marathon bombings, even though there is no apparent evidence that this was deliberate.

      People have also mentioned the Waco "connection" here too. I think the US psyche is in a bit of a frazzled state at the moment.

    • by sFurbo (1361249)
      For the discussion of what could have caused it by people who know about fertilizer plants?
  • by ta_gueule (2795275) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:07AM (#43480431)
    Fertilizers are extremely dangerous and should be handled with more care. A similar thing happened in my town 12 years ago. If was on 21/9/2001, so 10 days after 11/9/2001 and therefore nobody heard about it but it left some 30 people dead and a city in ruins. Look up AZF in Toulouse on the web to see what I'm talking about. They first blamed it on the terrorists and later admitted it was an industrial accident. Like in Texas, the AZF factory was build out of the town but the town grown and it found itself in the middle of it. Poor urban planning.
    • I believe in this scenario there should be a plan to abandon the site and let it burn or blow up. And obviously there should be a buffer zone around the plant, as there are around airports. No residential, just commercial land.

      • Well, the explosion propagates at the speed of sound, so abandoning the site is not an option. In Toulouse, the explosion occurred when 2 chemical products entered in contact (ammonium and nitrate if I'm not mistaken) It left a crater 200 meters wide. Although the biggest damage occurred near the factory, Steel girders were found 3km away, windows blown up 20 km away and the seismic activity was recorded in Paris (800 km away)
        • In this instance a fire preceded the explosion, so the plant could have been abandoned when the fire was discovered, if there had been no immediate threat to public safety. I agree that the idea doesn't work for all cases.

  • by Jesrad (716567) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:10AM (#43480451) Journal

    This explosion appears very similar to that of the AZF chemical plant near Toulouse in France [wikipedia.org], though (thankfully) smaller in damage and victims.

    Fire and ammonium nitrate deposits... like match and dynamite.

    • by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:44AM (#43480583) Journal

      Here [wikipedia.org], listing 24 previous disasters, the largest of which [wikipedia.org] was also in Texas. You'd think they, of all places, would know to keep large quantities of ammonium nitrate away from population centers (or vice versa).

      Scarily, some of those disasters were from when a large quantity of ammonium nitrate powder had solidified and people tried to break it up with explosives.

      The news reports I'm seeing don't actually say it was an ammonium nitrate explosion in this case, although it seems a reasonable supposition.

      • The problem with economic growth, is that something like a $500M fertilizer plant brings lots of jobs. The people that work those jobs don't like driving 30 miles each way to get to work, so the town that used to be at a safe distance from the half-billion dollar industrial site grows towards it. Then the thing blows up and everyone asks "Why wasn't it in the middle of nowhere?"

        It probably was when it was built 20 years ago.

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