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Guard Sent to Test Air After Fertilizer Explosion

A fire still burns in a apartment complex destroyed near a fertilizer plant that exploded earlier in West, Texas, in this photo taken early Thursday morning, April 18, 2013.

The Texas National Guard has sent more than 20 members of the 6th Civil Support Team to West, Texas to test the air quality and assess chemical and biological hazards following the explosion of a fertilizer plant Wednesday night, an official said.

The explosion at West Fertilizer in West, Texas, a community about 20 miles north of Waco, happened shortly before 8 p.m. It sent flames shooting high into the night sky, and rained burning embers, shrapnel and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.

Authorities have said that up to 15 people were killed by the blast and about 160 more have been injured by the explosion that could be felt as far away as Oklahoma. Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said the death toll remains an estimate as officials continue to search through the rubble from the explosion.

Fort Hood is located 50 miles south of West, Texas, and about an hour-long drive. No soldiers or other military personnel stationed at Fort Hood were known to be injured or killed in the explosion as of late Wednesday night, said Tom Rheinlander, a Fort Hood spokesman.

The Fort Hood fire department sent three crews to help with the search and rescue of victims in collapsed houses and a nursing home, Rheinlander said.

Along with sending members of the 6th Civil Support Team, the Texas Guard has placed members of its search and extraction teams on standby, said Laura Lopez, a spokesman for the Texas National Guard. She said the Guard would also provide command and control capabilities if requested.

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