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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Huge Explosion At Texas Fertilizer Plant; Latest on Boston Bombing; interview with Rep. Bill Flores; Interview with West, Texas, Mayor Tommy Muska
Aired April 18, 2013 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is PIERS MORGAN LIVE. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. It's midnight here on the east coast, 9:00 p.m. on the west coast.
We're covering two major breaking news stories tonight. In Texas, a spectacular explosion roared through a fertilizer plant near Waco sending a massive fire ball into the sky and causing unknown numbers of injuries. A nearby hospital has been told to expect at least a hundred patients.
A triage station is set up on the football field near the plant and there are five restrictions in place for three miles around. There are two confirmed dead at the moment and there are fears that the death tolls could rise much, much higher. We'll have much more on this in a moment.
Also tonight, the latest on the Boston marathon bombings, the federal and state agencies showed two men near the finishing line. Law enforcement tells us high interest and possible suspects. One of the men was seen carrying a black backpack.
The attached photos are being circulated in an attempt to identify the individuals highlighted therein. Feel free to pass this around to fellow agents elsewhere. CNN is not showing the photos, was not describing the men. We don't want to tip them off.
We begin tonight with that huge explosion tonight at a Texas fertilizer plant. Hazardous material crews have been rushed to the scene. Witnesses say it sounded like a bomb went off. With me now on the phone is Glenn Robinson, the CEO of the Hillcrest Hospital in Waco.
Mr. Robinson, thank you so much for joining me. Can you tell me at the moment how big you believe the injury toll and possible death toll is as we stand?
GLENN ROBINSON, CEO OF HILLCREST HOSPITAL (via telephone): At this time, I can certainly give you the numbers that we're aware of in our particular system. We're part of 12 hospitals in our system. We have received this evening a total of 66. We still have emergency vehicles and we have at least two more choppers that we know are inbound at this time bringing us additional patients who have been injured. I would say that in talking to our trauma surgeons just a few minutes ago, many of the injuries that we're seeing are not extremely critical. We probably would be treating tonight maybe about 12 patients that would be classified as serious condition. We already have two patients in the operating room.
We have two more patients that are being assessed at this time and probably would be heading on to the operating room shortly. We also have transported this evening two pediatric patients to our children's hospital to receive a higher level of subspecialties here that we felt was appropriate for them.
I am being told that burn patients are being directed to the Dallas Forth Worth, Texas, which is about an hour and a half north of here. The number that I have been told at this time is nine burn patients that have been transported from the scene.
So it's hard to say for sure how many we will see before the night is over. But the good news that we are hearing from officials on the scene is that we should begin to see things easing here within the next hour or two.
MORGAN: Mr. Robinson, do you know exactly what has happened here? The information we're getting is that there was a fire at this fertilizer plant and fire officers were attending to the fire when it exploded.
ROBINSON: Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of details. What we were told initially around the 8:00 hour local time here. We're central time zone here. We were told that there had been an explosion at the west fertilizer plant.
We were also told that it involved a nearby apartment complex, the blast was so large that it impacted that facility as well as an area nursing home was also adversely impacted. But as far as casualties that sort of thing, I really cannot speak to what's there this evening. We are approximately 18 miles away from the community of west.
MORGAN: Do you know how many hospitals are taking in patients tonight?
ROBINSON: It's really, if you know, this is something that we never hope happens, but it does make me very proud of the trauma system that we operated our country in. And so we had seen tonight hospitals throughout our Regional Advisory Council that we operate in here, the heart of Texas, where the anchor hospital formed this area in combining with our Scott White Memorial Hospital, which is 30 miles away.
And then also, another facility here in our community, Providence Hospital, has helped and we are all reaching out. Our physicians and staff members have just been incredible. We have had hundreds of doctors, nurses and personnel that are part of our system that have arrived and are helping out, tending to the patients and, also, tending to the loved ones. I would like to give out a number because I'm sure there are viewers that have family members in this area and would be concerned. They can call 254-202-1100, 254-202-1100 that's a special hotline we've set up for family members to call.
We probably would not have any information immediately available for them, but we can begin to pass along information as it becomes available to them. We'll be able to confirm to them over a period of time.
MORGAN: Mr. Robinson, thank you very much indeed for joining me. We will probably try again to speak to you later in the air if that's possible to see where things stand then. But I realize you've had a very busy night there. I appreciate you spending the time talking to us. Thank you.
ROBINSON: You bet, thanks.
MORGAN: On the phone with me now, George Smith. He's from the West EMS Duration. Mr. Smith, can you hear me?
GEORGE SMITH, EMS DOCTOR, WEST (via telephone): Yes, I can hear you.
MORGAN: Can you tell me what your assessment of this disaster is in terms of injuries and potential fatalities?
SMITH: Yes, there was a very major explosion. When I heard the fire, I went to the nursing home and had the nursing home residents on that side closest to the fire evacuated together to the side of the building.
I was there when the explosion went off so I got trapped in the glass and the ceiling and stuff that fell on me. We were waiting for Texas Task Force One search and rescue because we have a lot of collapse buildings around.
I believe there have been hundreds of people taking to local hospitals. Unfortunately expect some fatalities. I know of at least two of my EMS personnel to help the firefighters that are deceased from the explosion.
I've heard very substantial rumors that there are three West volunteer firefighters that have deceased from the explosion. And I'm waiting the county Justice of the Peace with another position in town.
We've been told to expect heavy deceased people that we will help pronounce dead. But, right now, they're trying to get the fire under control and trying to get into the building there.
MORGAN: Dr. Smith, do you know how many buildings have collapsed to this moment?
SMITH: No, because I really can't get to it. My son lives on one of the buildings collapsed, one of the streets closest to there. He was upstairs. He said the upstairs fell downstairs. But he says all of the houses there are totally demolished. So there's probably 10-15 places totally demolished. There are probably 50 homes that have been heavily damaged. I have a solid wooden door in my office that blew the door off the hinges.
MORGAN: And is it likely from what you're telling us that there are still probably many people trapped in these properties that have collapsed?
SMITH: That's what we're afraid of. And of course, right now, that's hazardous chemicals. We can't get in there because of the smoke and the hazardous chemicals. We can't help anybody if we go down.
So we're waiting to get the fire under control and Texas Tasks Force One. So I expect there's going to be many fatalities and many more critically injured people. Hopefully, I'm wrong, but that's what I've been told to expect.
MORGAN: We also understand there's a growing fear about a second fertilizer tank at the plant, which people are worried may also explode. Is that your understanding?
SMITH: Yes, they've come to us and told us to be careful. Luckily, thank God, we've had a lot of help. We're a little town. We're 2,500 people. So we have a lot of fire departments around the mutual aid, a lot of ambulance services, sheriff's deputies, DPS, a lot of people helping us.
MORGAN: Do most of the people that work at the plant live in West itself?
SMITH: Yes. I don't think anyone was actually there that actually at the plant. I may be wrong, I don't know.
MORGAN: They may have all gone home to nearby vicinity presumably?
SMITH: Yes, because it was like 7:15, 7:30 when the fire started.
MORGAN: I understand there may be a three-mile exclusion zone around the whole area? Is that your understanding?
SMITH: I'm sorry. I could understand you. Could you say it again?
MORGAN: I understand there may be a three-mile exclusion zone around the plant. Is that correct?
SMITH: That sounds pretty good. I wouldn't be surprise first-degree they did that, yes. That one explosion was massive that went off.
MORGAN: And, Dr. Smith, you also understand that the helicopters have been temporarily grounded. Is that correct?
SMITH: Well, they're telling helicopters to stay at least 3,000 feet high because of the potential. If there's an explosion that goes up that could crash the helicopter. From what I understand, there's 3,000 feet above it. MORGAN: And then the football field where a lot of the patients have been taken, how near is that to the actual plant itself?
SMITH: It's probably about a mile.
MORGAN: Right. So are they concerned about the safety of people in that field if the second fertilizer tank explodes?
SMITH: I haven't been there for a while, but, pretty much, they have most people evacuated.
MORGAN: I think actually, I'm just hearing that being confirmed. I think, that they have evacuated now from the field. They were using the field to treat people. Do you know where they're taking people now?
SMITH: We're using a community center, which is probably five or six miles away. It's at the far, southern end of the town and the fertilizer plant is at the far northern end of the town.
MORGAN: And are you and your colleagues and other emergency services able to get to the collapsed properties or at the moment, can you not do that?
SMITH: We can't do that right now because they're still fighting the fire and there is toxic chemicals plus the potential for the explosion. So we can't help anybody else if we get caught in an explosion. So we have to make sure it's not safe for our personnel to get in.
MORGAN: Obviously, a very dangerous situation for the firefighters continuing to battle the blaze, particularly knowing that so many of their colleagues may have already been injured and killed and with this ongoing threat of another explosion.
SMITH: Yes. All the prayers really go out to all the firefighters and the EMS personnel and we appreciate all the prayers we have from the nation and around the world that help protect our firefighters and EMS people and the people that maybe injured.
MORGAN: Dr. Smith, do you yourself live in West?
SMITH: Yes, I do.
MORGAN: I mean, this is obviously an absolute catastrophe for the town. How do you think people are going to come to terms with this? Try to deal with it?
SMITH: We're very resilient town. It's going to take quite some time to get things rebuilt. I can't even get in my house now, all the windows are blown out. I have three vehicles. I was in my truck. I was at the nursing home and it blew the windows out, but it's still drivable.
I have two other vehicles. I can't get out of the garage. There are a lot of people that don't have transportation. We'll just have to deal with it. It's going to take quite some time. We'll have to stay with relatives and stay other places.
MORGAN: How many, Dr. Smith, were residents of West that work at the plant? Do you have a number?
SMITH: I really don't have any idea. I can't venture a guess.
MORGAN: Would it be hundreds of people?
SMITH: No, no, no. Working at the fertilizer plant? More like 10 or 20 people.
MORGAN: Right. And how many other people living in West would have some connection to the plant?
SMITH: Probably 30 to 40 and that's estimation. The other thing that made the explosion worse was not just ammonia. They store grain there and that's extremely explosive. I haven't been over there because they won't let us anywhere close.
MORGAN: Just while you're talking, we have that information hotline. It's 254-202-1100. That is for anyone concerned about anyone that might be in that area. Dr. Smith, thank you very much indeed. I'm sure we're going to want to talk to you later, but, for now, you've been extremely helpful. Thank you.
Now, on the phone, I have Mayor Tommy Muska of the city of West. Mr. Mayor, can you hear me?
TOMMY MUSKA, MAYOR, WEST, TEXAS (via telephone): Yes.
MORGAN: This is absolutely a devastating tragedy, disaster for West. Where were you when the explosion happened and where are you at the moment?
MUSKA: I am right now at the media center outside of West. I was about two blocks away responding to the fire when it exploded.
MORGAN: We're getting conflicted reports, but it would seem a very large number of people's properties and homes have been --
MUSKA: It's about a five-block radius of the fertilizer plant.
MORGAN: So how many homes do you think have been flattened in this?
MUSKA: It's 60 maybe 80.
MORGAN: And these are private homes with --
MUSKA: -- one school, one nursing home, one apartment.
MORGAN: And do you expect there have been many people that have died in these homes?
MUSKA: I don't know. Obviously, yes, it's a huge explosion. So there's going to be casualties. They've all been taken to Waco Hospital. MORGAN: Mayor, just finally, where were you when the explosion happened?
MUSKA: I was a couple of blocks -- I'm a member of the fire department, so I was on my way to the fire.
MORGAN: What was the feeling that you had?
MUSKA: I was getting ready to see an explosion like that. It's like a nuclear bomb went off. Big old mushroom cloud.
MORGAN: Are you a firefighter yourself?
MUSKA: Yes, I'm a firefighter. We're a small town, 2,500. We do a lot of double duty around here.
MORGAN: we have heard from other people tonight that some firefighters have lost their lives from the initial explosion. Is that your understanding?
MUSKA: I haven't confirmed that, no.
MORGAN: Mr. Mayor, I can tell you that obviously want to get back to your duty and I don't want to stop you.
MUSKA: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
MORGAN: We wish you all very good wishes and for the people of West. God bless all of you tonight. It sounds an impending disaster for you.
MUSKA: Thank you very much. We'll be in touch, OK?
MORGAN: Right now to Cheryl Marak. She is a firefighter's wife and is on the city council. Mrs. Marak, can you hear me?
CHERYL MARAK, FIREFIGHTER'S WIFE (via telephone): Yes.
MORGAN: This is obviously an appalling incident that is unfolding in West. Where were you when the explosion happened?
MARAK: Two and a half blocks from the fertilizer plant and in front of my house watching the flames.
MORGAN: And you're married to a firefighter, is that correct?
MARAK: Yes, he is.
MORGAN: And has he begun to tackle the blaze?
MARAK: Yes, he has. We can see the flames from the road.
MORGAN: And has he begun to tackle the blaze?
MARAK: Yes, he has. We can see the flames from the road. We went on and my mother escorted me and we were all watching the flames. MORGAN: Do you know if he's OK?
MARAK: Yes, I called him.
MORGAN: It's obviously a very unstable situation. This must be very worrisome for you and everyone in the area.
MARAK: Yes, it is. For all of those people in town, you know, everybody -- I don't know if they've gotten them completely or not.
MORGAN: Can you see any of the properties that have been damaged by the explosion?
MARAK: Yes, my house is totally destroyed. I had dogs in the house and it killed my dogs.
MORGAN: Your house is completely destroyed?
MORGAN: I'm so terribly sorry for you and your family. Do you fear that many people may have been killed in this incident?
MARAK: Right now, the massive explosion.
MORGAN: I'm so sorry for what's happened to you.
MARAK: A couple of them has. It's hard to even think.
MORGAN: Where are you speaking to me from at the moment?
MARAK: I'm about two miles out of town now.
MORGAN: And are many people evacuated, as far as you're aware?
MARAK: Yes, yes, yes. There was a lot of -- there was a line of cars from every direction coming out.
MORGAN: There's also concern about the ammonia nitrate that may have come as a result of the explosion. Have you been warned about that? Do you know how bad that can be as part of this incident?
MARAK: Yes, yes. I guess it was just smoke and stuff, but it was getting hard to breathe anyway.
MORGAN: I spoke to the mayor, he said --
MARAK: Yes, he came across the railroad tracks right before it happened. And it knocked me down, it knocked me back. It was like the whole road just picked up.
MORGAN: The force of the blast, did it knock you over, did you say?
MARAK: It was horrible.
MORGAN: Other people have told me it felt like a nuclear bomb had gone off, such as the ferocious power.
MARAK: Yes, that's what it felt like.
MORGAN: What is your husband's name?
MORGAN: Marty and he's currently trying to put this fire out, is he?
MORGAN: How do you feel about that? It's obviously a very dangerous situation.
MARAK: I am begging him to come home. He said he can't. He won't leave. I was hoping maybe he'd come home.
MORGAN: Is it his full-time job?
MARAK: No, he's a volunteer fireman.
MORGAN: What does he do for a living?
MARAK: Heating and air-conditioning.
MORGAN: Well, it's an astonishingly brave thing that he's doing tonight. I'm just so sorry to you and your family for the devastating loss of your home and your dog and for so many people. I just hope and pray that the death toll isn't as bad as people feel and the healing can start as soon as possible.
MARAK: I don't know if I'll get them all back. Like I said, we're on that now. I can't think about it anymore. Again, I don't know. Every time I'm getting on the phone, it lasts a couple minutes and the phone cuts off. So I don't know if you're trying to call someone in town if it's being blocked or you just can't.
MORGAN: Cheryl, I'm so sorry for what's happened to you. My thoughts and prayers go with your husband who is active duty fighting this fire tonight. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me.
MARAK: Thank you. Thank you.
MORGAN: I want to bring you up to speed on tonight's breaking news in Texas. Some 10-15 buildings have been totally demolished, possibly 50 homes in West, Texas about 20 miles from Waco. This is the stunning video from KWKT, the exact moment that the explosion happened.
Absolutely extraordinary power described by some witnesses of the blast as a nuclear bomb going off. It's injured at least a hundred people. At least two people are dead, though that number is feared to rise. And there is a no-fly-zone now 300 feet above the area.
I'm joined now by Congressman Bill Flores. He represents the city of West and joins me on the phone. Congressman, a devastating situation that's hit West tonight. REP. BILL FLORES, R-TEXAS (via telephone): Yes, Piers, it is. And West is a wonderful little community. Our hearts and prayers go out to all of those that are affected in this community.
MORGAN: We understand that the ongoing situation is that they're battling to put this fire out. Their genuine fear is that a second tank may explode as well. Is that your understanding?
FLORES: That's my understanding as well. I don't have a lot to add to the folks who have called in today to visit with you except to say this. And that is that I have reached out to the leadership in the county, both the county sheriff and the county judge and we've offered them our help.
We've also reached up to the governor's office and have helped to coordinate with FEMA to the extent that our help is needed. Also, center cruise and center coordinates office is working with us so that we can bring all the federal assets to help in this situation.
These requests typically come through the governor's office. So we've got everybody ready at the federal level to receive those requests.
MORGAN: Congressma, do we know the circumstances in which the original fire started was it an accident? Could it have been sabotage or something more sinister?
FLORES: I would not expect sabotage by any stretch of the imagination. That said I think it's too early to know at this point and so there's been a lot of speculation with respect to casualties and with respect to cause. And I don't want to add any fuel to that fire at this point. I think we need to wait and see what the facts on the ground show after we have a chance to fuse all of the individual pieces of information to build the picture as to what happened.
MORGAN: We understand that there may be about a hundred people who've been taken to local hospitals, as far as Waco, 20 miles away, with injuries. Two people confirmed dead at the moment.
Do you have any more up-to-date figures for the number of casualties here?
FLORES: No, sir, I don't. My team is going to be working through the night and we will be working with our local hospitals to try to keep compilation of our casualties injuries. At this point, we're aware of around 70 that have gone to Hillcrest Hospital in Waco. But we don't have good numbers beyond the Hillcrest family.
MORGAN: I had an extremely moving interview just now with a woman whose house was just blown away as she stood near it. And her husband is a part-time firefighter. He'd gone into battle the blaze. It's clearly an extremely traumatic situation for all the people in this very small town of no more than 2,500 people.
FLORES: That's just the way that we Texans are wired. We, you know, even though we face our own personal tragedies from time to time, we still know that we have to go help others. And then we assess our own tragedies later on.
A lot of small towns in Texas have only volunteer fire departments. And even though they're called volunteer fire departments, they are usually very professional and have great training and usually have good equipment. And so this gentleman's actions, I think, reflect the spirit of Texas and the way we do things here.
MORGAN: I mean, quite amazing courage that you have part-time firemen who, after this explosion, have gone back in to try and deal with this, knowing there may be another explosion. I mean, it really is extraordinary valor.
FLORES: Yes, sir, but they've got a community that they're trying to save. They're trying to save their own community. Now, they do have help from the fire departments from the surrounding communities as well. But, again, I think that it reflects them trying to serve a greater cause, to protect the rest of this community to the extent that he can.
MORGAN: I'm just going to repeat the emergency number for people to call in, if they know people in the area or they're concerned.
Congressman, thank you very much for joining me.
FLORIES: It was good talking to you, Piers.
I would want to point out a couple of other things. There are blood drives that are going to be going on throughout this part of Texas. And if people want to, they can look at -- follow my Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts. And they can see where to go to donate blood or to volunteer to help, things like that. So they'll follow the social media.
There will be some good opportunities there. And I would ask all Americans to pray for the community of West and those that were affected by this tragedy.
MORGAN: Absolutely. It's an awful situation. Thank you again for joining me.
FLORES: Thank you, Piers, talk to you soon.
MORGAN: I'm joined by my CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, this is another horrific incident in what was already a horrific week. What is your understanding of the casualty situation here?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing some of the same numbers. First, Piers, as you probably heard, the numbers are sort of wildly variable. And that often happens in situations like that. You heard different numbers. We hear just under 70 patients now at this hospital, Hillcrest Hospital. Just to give you a little bit of context, Piers, given that I'm in Boston here, about 180 patients, as you know, from the explosions here in Boston, went to nine different hospitals. You're talking about 70 patients; probably that number's going to go up, going to a small hospital there in West; about 200-230 bed hospital. So much different situation in terms of resources.
Also mentioned, Piers, in terms of fertilizer plants explosions, there's all sorts of different concerns that come to mine. Certainly the explosion itself, the blast, as you heard, Piers, that could be felt significantly several blocks away. The fire itself, but, also, the fertilizer, some of these compounds by themselves don't pose much of a risk.
But when you mix them with fuel, in this case a fire, they can become quite explosive. And that could have increased the magnitude of this.
But, also, Piers, you know, these first responders that you've been talking to, the woman's husband that you were just talking to, they're at increased risk as well. My guess is wearing respirators, some sort of protection because of the various chemicals, including something known as anhydrous ammonia. Now people don't need to remember that name.
But you should know that this oftentimes can create a fog-like atmosphere in that area. And it can be quite pungent; it can be very irritating to the upper airway, to the lungs. While it may not have a lot of long-term impact, it can make some of the rescue efforts, which you've been reporting on and hearing about, much more difficult, not only at the plant, but also to the surrounding buildings.
So several different concerns sort of coming into play here, Piers.
MORGAN: Absolutely, Sanjay, stay with me. Let's take a short break and I'll come back and talk about this in more detail with you.
MORGAN: We've got more of our dramatic breaking news tonight: a massive explosion that ripped through a fertilizer plant in a town, in West, Texas, sending scores of injured to area hospitals sparking fires and triggering evacuations.
Joining me on the phone is eyewitness Crystal Anthony. She was knocked over by the blast.
Ms. Anthony, can you hear me?
CRYSTAL ANTHONY, EYEWITNESS: Yes, I can hear you.
MORGAN: It sounds like an absolutely dreadful situation. Where were you when the explosion happened?
ANTHONY: I was standing about a block or so from the explosion.
MORGAN: And can you describe to me what it felt like to experience? We've had people talk about it being like a nuclear bomb going off.
ANTHONY: It -- all I know is that when it exploded, we all just hit the ground. And I was trying to cover up my daughter because there was a lot of debris flying. Then after that, it was just basically search and rescue.
MORGAN: And what has happened to your house?
ANTHONY: I'm not sure of my house. I was unable to get to my house. I was actually closer to the scene. As far as my house, I won't know until tomorrow when they're able to let us go down and see. My transportation, all my -- the windows were out and -- but we can replace all of that.
MORGAN: Were you hurt at all when you were knocked over?
ANTHONY: No, sir, just a couple of little scratches. So the Lord had to be on my side. I had some angels, because that's how close I was. The windows -- I was standing less than 20 feet from the nursing home, which was totaled.
MORGAN: Do you feel lucky to be alive?
ANTHONY: I feel blessed to be alive.
MORGAN: It's an appalling ongoing tragedy. The firefighters are down there, many of them are part-time. There's somebody just tweeted me to point out, "There's no such thing as a part-time firefighter. You're a firefighter, even if it's just one of the jobs you do."
ANTHONY: No, I'm not a firefighter.
MORGAN: No, I'm --
ANTHONY: I'm sorry?
MORGAN: -- the point I was making is that a lot of the firefighters fighting the blaze at the moment are part-time, although people have said to me tonight, no firefighter is ever part-time because when a fire happens, as these men are doing tonight, they have to go.
ANTHONY: Exactly. We really -- we have a volunteer fire department. We're a small community. So everyone in our fire department is volunteers.
MORGAN: What do you feel about the men, and maybe women, I don't know, who's gone down there. They're there risking their lives right now with the fear of another possible fertilizer tank that may go up at any time.
ANTHONY: The community, we're a very close knit community. And that's why we all have pulled together. And we thank everybody. I mean, the outpouring of the state and all of the surrounding communities and school districts have just really stepped up and assisted us. MORGAN: Have you detected anything in the air that warned about this ammonia, that may be filling the air around the plant? Have you sensed that at all?
ANTHONY: We are now on the other side of town. They had evacuated the town. So where we are, everything seems OK. I'm not smelling anything.
MORGAN: Were you able to --
ANTHONY: But it was -- go ahead?
MORGAN: As you left, were you able the see other properties that had been damaged?
ANTHONY: Yes, it's devastating, it's devastating. It's bad. I mean, I just can't even put it into words. I've never seen anything like that in person before.
MORGAN: Have you any idea how many homes may have been either totaled or damaged badly?
ANTHONY: No, sir. It's a residential area, it's homes, apartment complexes, the nursing home, our schools, we had -- our intermediate was right there, the high school and the middle school all suffered damages.
MORGAN: And I presume that, given it's such a small town of just 2,500 people, that basically everyone basically knows each other, right?
ANTHONY: Yes, sir.
MORGAN: So this is a really huge challenge to your community.
ANTHONY: Yes, this is very devastating. But we are pulling together and just doing the best we can and we'll go forward from there. All I can say is we're asking for prayers and blood donations, because there was a lot of people injured.
MORGAN: Crystal Anthony, I really appreciate you joining me. And our hearts and our thoughts and our prayers go to you and everybody in West tonight. It's an awful, awful thing that's happened to your town. And we can only hope it doesn't get any worse.
ANTHONY: Yes, sir, we really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
MORGAN: Thank you for joining me.
ANTHONY: OK. Bye-bye.
MORGAN: Joining me now on the phone is Chris Sedaghi. He is a reporter for KXAN.
Mr. Sedaghi, can you hear me?
CHRIS SEDAGHI, KXAN REPORTER: Yes, I can.
MORGAN: What can you tell us about the latest situation, because there is an ongoing huge fire and a fear of a potential second explosion of another fertilizer tank.
SEDAGHI: Yes, we're actually on our way to the scene right now. We're driving up from Austin. West, Texas, sits just about halfway between Austin and Dallas, but we're getting some information in, coming in through (inaudible) from the EMS department.
And that is one of the things that we're hearing is that they are wanting to move people out of that area and evacuate, I think I heard a 5-mile radius around where the explosion happened because they are worried about the secondary explosion and also, as you were talking about earlier, potential toxic fumes that could do some even more damage.
MORGAN: And I think as Sanjay Gupta was saying earlier, it is a multi-pronged danger, both from the ammonia clouds, the first itself, the potential for another explosion and you have the rescue situation where you have all these homes that have been flattened, and many of the rescue services can't actually get to the people inside them.
SEDAGHI: Yes. And it's one of those things where now that the sun has gone down, we may not know the fullest extent until the sun comes up in the morning. There's been a lot of estimates; I saw one number that put the amount of damaged homes (inaudible) between 70 and 100.
Of course, all the numbers right now, I wouldn't say they're very concrete. That's something that we'll have to wait on. But, yes, it's been kind of ranging. But definitely the numbers indicate that it is a large amount of damage to town that is not very big at all. I think you were talking about with the woman earlier, it's a small town that where everybody kind of knows everybody.
And it's -- (inaudible) certainly sounds like everybody in town felt this explosion. They were talking about it feeling like an earthquake and some of the video out there on YouTube shows just how loud and how powerful it was.
MORGAN: Yes, we've replayed a video actually, which was taken by one of the residents. Absolutely devastating: enormous power, huge ball of fire and this tremendous noise. We're just playing it again there.
You can only imagine if you were a resident anywhere near that. You know, we've heard that people as much as 40 miles away may have felt some kind of aftershock from it. So dreadful power and the latest pictures that we've been seeing, as well, of the area, it really -- it looks like a huge bomb crater, a bomb site, really devastating.
SEDAGHI: Yes, it really is. And one of the e-mails that we received was talking about the several-pronged challenge that this explosion is posing. They have the initial triage center set up at the football field, I believe. And then about I'd say 30-45 minutes ago, we heard that they were moving the triage center because of the potential for toxic fumes or a second explosion. So a lot of work to be done here tonight. I have no doubt at all that they're probably getting help from surrounding agencies, but they need plenty of it.
MORGAN: They certainly do. I really appreciate you joining me, thank you for taking the time.
SEDAGHI: Thank you.
MORGAN: I'm joined now by Marty McKellips. She's with the American Red Cross Central Texas region.
This is a pretty devastating incident. How much is the Red Cross involved?
MARTY MCKELLIPS, AMERICAN RED CROSS, CENTRAL TEXAS REGION: We're always extremely involved in a situation like this. We're working closely with the first responders and the emergency officials there to assess the situation, and come in and make sure we take care of the physical needs of the people who have been displaced and of course provide comfort and hope over their recovery.
MORGAN: And in terms of what you're hearing on the ground, are we right in thinking that there are various issues here? One is getting to the people who may have been in these properties that were just flatlined by the explosion.
Then there's the threat of ammonia in these gaseous clouds that have come as a result of the explosion and, of course, the ongoing fire and potential for more explosions.
MCKELLIPS: It's all absolutely true. And so our authorities and staff are trying to very closely listen to the authorities and the officials who know how to remain safe and to help the local residents to remain safe also.
MORGAN: If people are concerned -- we have a number for them -- if they're concerned, nobody can get within three miles now, physically; is that correct?
MCKELLIPS: That's what I'm hearing. And I believe that that's true. And we really want to encourage everyone to do exactly what the authorities are saying and not make the situation any worse by trying to get in there. I know sometimes that's hard to do, but right now, we need to let these people who have trained to fight these fires to do their job.
MORGAN: The information hotline for those who are maybe just tuning in is 254-202-1100.
That is if you want any information there.
Thank you very much indeed for joining me and updating me on the Red Cross' involvement.
MCKELLIPS: OK. Thank you. MORGAN: Want to go back now to CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, absolutely what you were saying there, that this is a multi- faceted issue that they're dealing with, from the clouds to the fire to the aftereffects of the first explosion and, indeed, the threat of more.
GUPTA: No question. And the physical concerns, obviously, Piers, but also the psychological ones. I was talking to one of the directors of the hospital there, Hillcrest Hospital earlier, he said look, we have no specific plan to deal with this. We deal with this just like any other trauma situation.
The problem, of course, Piers, is this is different than other trauma situations. You have the fertilizer plant is a potential fuel for that initial explosion, which causes that primary blast, which could be felt blocks away.
And also the secondary blast, Piers, which is something we've been talking about here in Boston. I didn't expect to be talking about it again in the context of something else so soon. But that secondary blast where shrapnel and other debris are blown quite a distance as well, compounded by the fact that these chemicals, just about any chemical you can name, Piers, is probably located in a fertilizer plant like this.
And one of the ones we're hearing a lot about, the tank that may have been the genesis of this explosion, something known as anhydrous ammonia, something that typically is not a problem. But when it's -- when there's a fire around, when there's fuel around, it can be quite flammable.
Also this typically is lighter than air, Piers. So it should typically just rise up and not be a problem. But when it's mixed with the humidity in the surrounding area, suddenly, it causes this fog. So just consider all of that, Piers, the fire, the explosions, the people being evacuated, this ammonia fog, people who are the first responders, they, themselves, now at risk as a result of all of that.
It's of considerable concern. My guess is I guess you've been intimating as well is that we have about 70 or so patients that have gone to the hospital. The numbers are likely to go up.
MORGAN: I'm actually hearing, Sanjay, I'm hearing --
GUPTA: -- 100-some beds.
MORGAN: Yes, I'm hearing various reports now saying it could be as many as 200 people injured, perhaps as many as 40 critically.
Also, the West mayor, Tommy Mouska, that I talked to earlier, believes that six or seven firefighters were in the plant at the time of the explosion and that remain unaccounted for, which makes the bravery of the other firefighters, many of whom are part-time, going back in knowing that, really quite extraordinary.
GUPTA: Yes. And so I just cannot imagine, again, both physically and psychologically, what they are going through right now. You see the images of that fire continuing to burn; it's been burning for some time. And they have that risk of another anhydrous ammonia tank as well, as you know, Piers.
MORGAN: Sanjay, stand by for now. Let's take another break and we'll come back with more of this breaking news of this devastating fire and explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas.
MORGAN: A massive explosion in West, Texas, at a fertilizer plant. Scores injured; there are fears that the death toll, which currently is three, will soar.
On the phone now is Barry Murry, an eyewitness to the explosion, who's being evacuated right now to Waco.
Mr. Murry, this is a dreadful situation. Where were you when the explosion happened?
BARRY MURRY, EYEWITNESS: I live in a home -- we live in the center of West, which is about a mile from the fertilizer plant. And we were just sitting in our living room and it felt like a bomb went off in my back yard.
It, you know, broke a bunch of windows, probably got about 15 or 20 windows broke. Everyone went outside and you know, looked (inaudible) there was a smoke cloud floating over West. There was, you know, everyone's just real confused, trying to figure out what happened. So were (inaudible) several blocks so we could look down and see in that direction.
MORGAN: And the damage that we're seeing in the pictures, all over West, look really horrific. Have you any estimate from what you've seen of how many properties may have been either totaled or badly damaged?
I don't know if Mr. Murry can still --
Can you still hear me, Mr. Murry?
No, we've lost Mr. Murry there. We'll try and get him back.
We're going to go to Brett Esrock, who I believe is also a resident of West.
Mr. Esrock, can you hear me?
BRETT ESROCK, PRESIDENT AND CEO, PROVIDENCE HEALTH CENTER, WACO: I can.
MORGAN: Am I right? Are you a resident of West?
ESROCK: No, no, I'm -- I live in Waco, Texas.
MORGAN: In Waco, which is about 18 miles away?
ESROCK: About 25 miles.
Did you feel this there? We're getting some reports from people as much as 40 miles away.
ESROCK: No, we didn't feel this in Waco.
MORGAN: Right. What do you know about what is currently going on there in terms of the battle with the fire?
ESROCK: Unaware of that; we are trying to deal with the casualties that are showing up at our hospital right now.
MORGAN: I'm sorry, because I was coming to you quickly there. I wasn't sure exactly what you do. So are you a doctor at the hospital?
ESROCK: No, no; I'm the CEO of Providence Health Center in Waco.
MORGAN: Right, I've got you. I'm sorry. Let me regroup with you.
How many people have you had brought to your hospital?
ESROCK: Thus far, we've had 37 people who have been brought to the hospital. Only one of those 37 was critically injured.
MORGAN: And we're getting reports of maybe as many as 200 people injured. Are you hearing numbers of that nature?
ESROCK: Actually, I haven't heard numbers that high after our initial report was over a hundred injured that we would expect in Waco between the two hospitals here. And I know there's been quite a few over at the other hospital across town. And, as I said, we received 37. But we know we have about 20 to 25 on the way to us right now.
MORGAN: The death toll at the moment is three people. But we're being told that there are scores of firefighters who were originally fighting the fire who remain unaccounted for after the explosion.
I mean, clearly, there are a very large number of properties. We've heard anything between 10, 15, to as many as 50-60 or more that have been completely flattened by the explosion. And presumably, there are many people trapped there who may also, tragically, have lost their lives. Have you any idea what that situation may be?
ESROCK: Really don't have any idea at the incident itself. We've just been heads down, trying to take care of the patients and prepare for even more patients and casualties to come to our organization.
MORGAN: If you could just standby with me one more moment. We're just going to reset at 1 o'clock here to bring people up to speed.