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'Chaotic' scene at nursing home devastated by Texas fertilizer blast

Rod Aydelotte / AP

Emergency workers evacuate the elderly from a damaged nursing home following an explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday in West, Texas.

Rescuers evacuating more than 130 elderly people from a nursing home during a fire at a nearby fertilizer plant were suddenly confronted with chaos and danger when an explosion ripped apart the building.

Many of the senior citizens at the West Rest Haven home are related to residents in the tiny Texas town of West, which has been devastated by the blast.

It's unclear how many were removed before the inferno at the West Fertilizer Company plant erupted in a earth-shuddering blast that killed between 5 and 15 people and injured at least 160 more.

Nursing home worker Lola Millhollin and another employee were wheeling two residents out through the building’s foyer at about 8 p.m. on Wednesday when disaster struck, she told the Associated Press.

Rod Aydelotte / Waco Tribune Herald via AP

Persons are seen pushing wheel chairs in front of a damaged nursing home following an explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in West, Texas. An explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco caused numerous injuries and sent flames shooting high into the night sky on Wednesday.(AP Photo/ Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)

“I was trying to figure out exactly where we were supposed to be,” Millhollin said. “All of a sudden it just blew, I mean, everything went flying everywhere, and once that happened I looked around and debris was just down. Everything fell down, the ceiling fell down and the windows blew out.”

Workers went back into the damaged building and searched rooms for trapped residents, she said. Many of the elderly were panicked and in shock.

“I helped loosen debris so that we could wheel the ones that were out in the main part first,” Millhollin said. “We did the best we could with what we had, and we got them out safely. We were taking them out through broken windows, putting a mattress across the windows so we could get them out without getting them all cut up and stuff.”

Denise Day, a nurse at West Rest Haven, told the Waco Tribune-Herald that she heard the blast from her house, which is 23 miles from the plant. After hearing the details over her police scanner, she raced back to town to help evacuate residents, she told the paper.

William Burch entered the damaged building with his wife, a retired Air Force nurse, and found water filling the hallways and wires dangling from the ceilings. The two found some residents trapped in wheelchairs in their rooms. The scene was “completely chaotic,” Burch told the AP.

“They had Sheetrock that was on top of them,” Burch said. “You had to remove that.”

The extent of the damage was not clear. All of the residents had been moved to other rest homes, said David Moon, 85, a former president and current board member.

“We just have to wait and probably tear down and rebuild,” said Moon, who has lived in West since 1950. He was on the nursing home’s board when it was founded in 1966, he said.

“We’re doing OK here,” Moon said. “We just have a lot of work to do.”

Related:

Police, first responders and a witness describe the horrifying scenes in wake of a fertilizer plant blast. NBC's David Scott reports.