Rescuers in the southern U.S. state of Texas have recovered 12 bodies while continuing to search for survivors in the ruins of a small town where a fertilizer plant exploded with the force of a small earthquake.
Residents in the farm town of West, Texas, say several of those killed in the Wednesday night explosion were firefighters and paramedics who went to the industrial site as a fire broke out that preceded the enormous blast. A Texas official said about 200 people were injured.
Authorities fear they may find more bodies as they search about 80 houses destroyed in the explosion, which may have been caused by the fire.
Investigators are concerned about potentially dangerous chemicals at the site. A National Guard team has been dispatched to monitor for hazardous emissions.
Texas Governor Rick Perry on Thursday called the situation a "truly nightmare scenario." He said much of the information on the victims remains "very preliminary."
Authorities have not determined how the initial fire started at the plant. Patrick Swanton, spokesman for the nearby Waco police department, says the site is being treated as a crime scene, but insisted there is no evidence to suggest it was anything other than an accident.
A nearby high school football field was turned into an emergency staging area to treat the victims. West's 2,800 residents were evacuated.
Emergency crews from dozens of nearby towns and counties traveled to West to assist with the response. Governor Perry says state resources have been mobilized to provide assistance to local authorities.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the massive explosion registered as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake. It was felt up to 80 kilometers away.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
The remains of a fertilizer plant burn after an explosion at the plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas early April 18, 2013.
Waco Police spokesperson William Swanton speaks at a media conference regarding an explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas early April 18, 2013.
This video image shows injured people being treated on the flood-lit high school football field turned into a staging area after the blast in West Texas early April 18, 2013.
Firefighters walk next to a destroyed apartment complex near a fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo taken early morning April 18, 2013.
Authories said that the deadly explosion ripped through the fertilizer plant injuring more than 100 people, leveling dozens of homes and damaging other buildings including a school and nursing home.