Hundreds pray as hunt for blast victims continues in Texas town

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Worshippers yesterday went to church in their hundreds to pray for the victims of the Texas fertiliser plant blast.

Initial reports put the deaths in the explosion in West on Wednesday as high as 15, although the authorities were yesterday still refusing to give any estimate. More than 160 people were hurt.

Several hundred people packed St Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in the Texas town for the service.

A victim relief services chaplain said the prayers and hymns honoured the members of the emergency services who rushed toward the danger of the plant fire that led to the blast, as well as those who were too close to the site when the explosion occurred.

Meanwhile rescuers were still searching the smoking remnants of the farm town for survivors.

The breathtaking band of destruction extended for a wide area around the West Fertiliser Co.

The blast shook the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and crumpled dozens of homes, an apartment complex, a school and a nursing home.

Its dull boom could be heard dozens of miles away.

Waco police Sergeant William Swanton described search-and-rescue efforts as “tedious and time-consuming,” noting that crews had to shore up much of the wreckage before going in.

Nothing indicated that the blast, which sent up a mushroom-shaped plume of smoke and left behind a crater, was anything other than an industrial accident, he said.

The explosion was apparently caused by a fire, but there was no indication what sparked the blaze.

The company had been cited by regulators for what appeared to be minor safety and permitting violations over the past decade.

The explosion rained burning embers and debris down on terrified residents. The landscape yesterday was wrapped in acrid smoke and strewn with the shattered remains of buildings, furniture and personal belongings.

While the community tended to its deep wounds, investigators awaited clearance to enter the blast zone for clues to what set off the plant’s huge stockpile of volatile chemicals.

“It’s still too hot to get in there,” a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said yesterday.

The precise death toll was uncertain. Between three and five volunteer firefighters initially were believed to be among the 15 people initially thought to have been killed.