By Justin Sink - 04/18/13 11:13 AM EDT
Lawmakers offered sympathy and federal assistance to victims and first responders after a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas, late Wednesday.
Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), whose district is home to the devastated community of West, Texas, said that he had spoken with congressional leaders and that Washington was ready to act if requested by the state.
“We’ll get FEMA involved. FEMA has been pre-alerted as to this and even Speaker [John] Boehner’s [R-Ohio] office has reached out to me as of last night and said that he’s willing to step in and help if we get the call.”
Flores said he hoped to be “back there as soon as possible” to aid in the recovery.
The blast, which occurred around 9 p.m. Eastern Time, began with a fire in an anhydrous ammonia tank and spread to a nearby building, causing the explosion, local station KWTX reported. That explosion spread the fire to a nearby school and nursing home and injured scores as glass and shrapnel were thrown from the blast.
Initial reports of possible fatalities and injuries varied widely as first responders scrambled to the area and worked to contain the fire. Authorities have since ordered the town of West, Texas, evacuated as hazmat and emergency crews responded.
The explosion, coming days after a deadly terror attack targeting the Boston Marathon and hours after FBI agents arrested a suspect who allegedly mailed ricin-laced letters to the White House and Capitol, sparked fears of foul play.
Authorities said early Thursday they had not determined the cause of the explosion, but are treating the area as a "crime scene" until they can rule out criminal activity. But they said they had no indication that it was an act of terrorism.
Flores said it was “difficult to know at this point at time” the cause of the initial fire. “Based on what I’ve heard, it’s probably an industrial accident of some sort,” he said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to coordinate the response.
Expressions of sympathy began pouring in from members of Congress late Wednesday night:
Praying for those in West, Texas.— Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) April 18, 2013
Prayers are with West, Texas tonight.... fb.me/QHbnxnwt— Ted Poe (@JudgeTedPoe) April 18, 2013
Attention: if you're trying to locate loved ones in West, Hillcrest has set up a hotline. Call this number: 254-202-1100 #TX17— Rep. Bill Flores (@RepBillFlores) April 18, 2013
This story was posted on April 17 at at 11:39 p.m. and has been updated.