미국 텍사스주(州) 중북부에 있는 비료공 장에서 17일(현지시간) 대형 폭발사고가 발생했다.
이에 따라 최소 100명에서 200여명에 이르는 사상자가 발생한 것으로 추정되고 있으나 현재 심야시간인데다 추가 폭발우려로 현장 접근이 어려워 정확한 사상자 숫자는 확인되지 않고 있다.
ABC와 CNN 등 주요방송과 AP통신 등에 따르면 이날 오후 8시와 10시께 텍사스 웨이코 북부지역에 위치한 웨스트시의 비료공장에서 두차례의 폭발사고가 발생했다.
텍사스주 공공안전국의 게일 스카보로 대변인은 ABC 방송에 "현시점에서 200여명이 부상했으며 이중 40명이 치명상을 입은 것으로 파악되고 있다"며 "그러나 사망 자 여부와 숫자는 불분명하다"고 말했다.
관계자들에 따르면 현지 힐크레스트 병원에만 60명 이상이 입원했고 인근의 다른 병원 두 곳에도 상당수의 환자들이 이송된 것으로 알려졌다.
사망자 숫자는 언론사에 따라 차이가 나고 있다.
CNN 방송은 현시점에서 최소 두명의 구급대원이 사망한 것으로 확인됐다고 보도 했다.
웨스트시 위기관리담당자인 조지 스미스 박사는 적어도 60명이 숨지고 100명이상이 숨졌다고 말했다고 CBS 방송과 현지 지역방송인 KWTX 등은 보도했다.
이와 관련해 CNN은 스미스 박사가 60∼70명까지 사망자가 늘어날 수 있다고 우려했을 뿐 구체적인 수를 언급한 것은 아니라고 전했다.
AP통신은 "이번 사고로 수십명이 부상했으며 사망자 숫자는 알 수 없다"고 보도했다.
폭발로 인해 인명 피해 외에도 공장주변 건물들이 100채 가까이 파괴된 것으로 추정되고 있다.
스카보로 대변인은 ABC 방송에 "공장인근 건물 75∼100채가 완전히 부서졌다"고 전했다.
이날 공장이 폭발하기 30분 정도 전에 화재가 발생해 소방관들과 구조대가 출동 해 화재를 진압하던 중 폭발이 일어난 것으로 전해졌다.
의용소방대원으로 현장에 출동해 있던 토미 무스카 웨스트 시장은 "핵폭탄이 터진 것 같았다"며 "큰 버섯구름이 일어났다"고 말했다.
당국은 추가 폭발을 우려해 공장 인근 주민 2천600명을 대피시키고 학교에는 휴교령을 내렸다.
연방항공청(FAA)은 웨스트시 위에 비행금지구역을 설정했다.
한편 이번 폭발의 원인은 아직 규명되지 않았으나, ABC 방송은 화학물질을 제거 하라고 직원들에게 경고하는 소리를 들었다는 목격자의 말을 전했다 (연합뉴스)
<관련 영문 기사>
Texas fertilizer plant blast injures dozens
A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco on Wednesday night injured dozens of people and sent flames shooting into the night sky, leaving the factory a smoldering ruin following a blast that damaged buildings for blocks in every direction.
The explosion at West Fertilizer in the town of West happened shortly before 8 p.m. local time and could be heard as far as 72 kilometers away.
Tommy Muska, West's mayor, said at a news conference three hours after the explosion that he didn't yet know how many people had been injured or killed. He said buildings in a five-block radius from the plant were severely damaged by the explosion.
Among the damaged buildings was the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, from which first-responders evacuated 133 patients, some in wheelchairs. “We did get there and got that taken care of,” Muska said.
Information was hard to come by in the hours after the blast, with even Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying state officials were waiting for details about the extent of the damage.
“We are monitoring developments and gathering information as details continue to emerge about this incident,” Perry said in a statement. “We have also mobilized state resources to help local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West, and the first responders on the scene.”
Aerial footage showed fires still smoldering in the ruins of the plant and in several surrounding buildings, and people being treated for injuries on a flood-lit local football field, which had been turned into a staging area for emergency responders.
Debby Marak told The Associated Press that when she finished teaching her religion class Wednesday night, she noticed a lot of smoke in the area across town near the plant, which is near a nursing home. She said she drove over to see what was happening, and that when she got there, two boys came running toward her screaming that the authorities ordered everyone out because the plant was going to explode.
She said she drove about a block when the blast happened.
“It was like being in a tornado,” Marak, 58, said by phone. “Stuff was flying everywhere. It blew out my windshield.”
“It was like the whole earth shook.”
She drove 10 blocks and called her husband and asked him to come get her. When they got to their home south of town, her husband told her what he'd seen: a huge fireball that rose like “a mushroom cloud.”
The explosion caused the roof of what appeared to be a housing complex of some kind to collapse. In aerial footage from NBC's Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate, KXAS, dozens of emergency vehicles could be seen amassed at the scene. Entry into West was slow-going, as the roads were jammed with emergency vehicles rushing in to help out.
Authorities set up a staging area on a flood-lit high school football field, where the injured were being treated or taken to area hospitals via road or helicopter.
Glenn A. Robinson, the chief executive of Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, told CNN that his hospital had received 66 injured people for treatment, including 38 who were seriously hurt. He said the injuries included blast injuries, orthopedic injuries, large wounds and a lot of lacerations and cuts. The hospital has set up a hotline for families of the victims to get information, he said.
Robinson did not immediately return messages from the AP.
American Red Cross crews from across Texas were being sent to the site, the organization said. Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster said the group was working with emergency management officials in West to find a safe shelter for residents displaced from their homes. She said teams from Austin to Dallas and elsewhere are being sent to the community north of Waco.
A West Fire Department dispatcher said any casualties would be transported to hospitals in Waco, north of Austin, the state capital.
The explosion knocked out power to many area customers and could be heard and felt for miles around.
Brad Smith, who lives 45 miles north of West in Waxahachie, told the station that he and his wife heard what sounded like a thunderclap.
Lydia Zimmerman, told KWTX that she, her husband and daughter were in their garden, 13 miles (20 kilometers) from West, when they heard multiple blasts.
“It sounded like three bombs going off very close to us,” she said.
Rafael Abreu, a geophysicist with National Earthquake Information Center of the U.S. Geological Survey, said the explosion did not register on a seismograph because most of the blast's energy dissipated in the atmosphere.
In 2001, an explosion at a chemical plant killed 31 people and injured more than 2,000 in Toulouse, France. The blast occurred in a hangar containing 300 tons of ammonium nitrate, which can be used for both fertilizer and explosives. The explosion came 10 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., and raised fears at the time it was linked. A 2006 report blamed the blast on negligence. (AP)