At least two people have been killed and seven injured after a massive explosion ripped through a factory in Houston.
The blast sent huge fireballs rocketing into the sky and caused debris to rain down on the US city’s Gessner Road area. It was so vast, reports suggest, it was heard more than 20 miles away.
"First and foremost, I want to say that we do have confirmed fatalities in this case, at least two confirmed fatalities," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told a press briefing.
He added that, while authorities did not believe the explosion at 4.25am on Friday morning was caused deliberately, a criminal investigation was underway.
And he said the force had asked nearby residents, whose property may have been damaged, to keep an eye out for any debris that could be considered evidence. That might, he said, include body parts.
The immediate area now remains evacuated following the blast at the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing factory.
Aerial pictures from the scene show the sheer extent of the damage: a crater stands where the sprawling complex once was, while nearby buildings have also suffered damage. Some homes were said to have been knocked off their foundations.
"I thought it was thunder," said Bruce Meikle, a 78-year-old owner of manufacturer ChemSystems, adding that the force of the blast bent back the metal loading doors at his business and caused minor damage inside.
Mark Brady, who lives near the site, said the explosion knocked his family out of bed.
"It busted out every window in our house," he told the KPRC news channel. "It busted everybody's garage door in around here and, closer towards the explosion, it busted people's roofs in and walls in."
On social media, meanwhile, city residents expressed their shock at being woken by the explosion.
“My whole house shook,” one wrote on Twitter. “I thought it was a bomb or earthquake,” added another. “We thought someone crashed into our building,” added a third, “but it apparently happened around 8 miles from where we are.”
Such was the apparent intensity of the blast, one suggested he thought an asteroid may have struck the earth.
It remains unknown what caused the explosion.
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