The full extent of the devastation will have to wait until the light of day Thursday. But residents of the small Texas town of West already know what to expect.
"There are a lot of people that got hurt," West Mayor Tommy Muska forewarned Wednesday night. "There are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow."
A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant on the edge of the town killed at least two people, wounded more than 150, leveled dozens of homes and prompted authorities to evacuate half their community of 2,800.
The Wednesday night blast shook houses 50 miles away and measured as a 2.1-magnitude seismic event, according to the United States Geological Survey.
"Fire officials fear that the number of casualties could rise as high as 60 to 70 dead, said Dr. George Smith, the emergency management system director of the city.
"That's a really rough number, I'm getting that figure from firefighters, we don't know yet," he said. "We have two EMS personnel that are dead for sure, and there may be three firefighters that are dead."
Early Thursday morning, firefighters painstakingly combed through houses, many reduced to rubbles.
"(It's) massive -- just like Iraq. Just like the Murrah (Federal) Building in Oklahoma City," said D.L. Wilson of the public safety department.
What caused the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. was not immediately known. But its location -- next to an apartment complex, a nursing home and a middle school -- did not help matters.
The blast stripped the apartment complex, with 50 units, of its walls and windows. "It was just a skeleton standing up," Wilson said.
The nursing home, with 133 residents, was quickly evacuated.
Fireball in the sky
West is a community of about 2,800 people, about 75 miles south of Dallas and 120 miles north of Austin. The town's chamber of commerce touts it as "the Czech point of central Texas."
Czech immigrants arrived there in the 1880s and the community still maintains strong ties to their central European roots, with businesses named "Little Czech Bakery" and "The Czech Inn."
The blast took place at the plant about 8:50 p.m. ET.
It sent a massive fireball into the sky. Flames leaped over the roof of a structure and a plume of smoke rose high into the air.
Brad Smith lives 50 miles away and he felt his house shake from the explosion.
"We didn't know exactly what it was," he said. "The forecast said a line of thunderstorm was going to come though. My wife and I looked up and wondered, 'Did it get here six hours early?'"
Back in West, officials painted a grim picture.
"There are lots of houses that are leveled within a two-block radius," Smith said. "A lot of other homes are damaged as well outside that radius."
The number of injuries ran well over 100, authorities said.
Five hours after the blast, carloads of the wounded continued to stream into area hospitals.
While some of the injuries are minor, others were "quite serious," said Glenn Robinson, the chief executive officer of Hillcrest Hospital in Waco.
Many suffered from "blast injuries, orthopedic injuries (and) a lot of lacerations."