Industrial explosion kills two, wrecks houses in Houston, Texas

Julia BENARROUS
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The ceiling of a home collapsed from the force of the deadly explosion at an industrial business

The ceiling of a home collapsed from the force of the deadly explosion at an industrial business (AFP Photo/Mark Felix)

Houston (AFP) - A large industrial explosion killed at least two people in the US city of Houston early Friday, shattering windows and damaging homes as shocked residents emerged to survey the destruction.

Police chief Art Acevedo said two fatalities were confirmed after the pre-dawn blast at a manufacturing firm scattered debris half a mile (800 meters) away.

Firefighters, emergency services and police rushed to the scene when a loud blast was heard across much of the Texas city at about 4:15 am (1015 GMT).

Officials said the explosion had ripped through a grinding and manufacturing business 18 miles (29 kilometers) northwest of downtown Houston.

The property and surrounding premises were reduced to smoking, blackened wreckage, with rubble strewn about and many windows and doors blasted out.

A security camera video appeared to show a huge fireball erupting at the moment of the explosion.

"We do have confirmed fatalities in this case, at least two confirmed fatalities," Acevedo told reporters.

Both victims were male and likely employed at the firm, he said, adding that he did not expect the death toll to increase.

The Houston police along with the federal government were investigating the blast, Acevedo said.

- 'It's a warzone' -

The owner of Watson Grinding, where the explosion occurred, told local TV channel KTRK it was sparked by propylene gas.

Many houses in the area were damaged, including shattered windows, collapsed roofs and broken garage doors.

The explosion "knocked us all out of our bed, it was so strong," resident Mark Brady told the local KPRC TV news website.

"It busted out every window in our house. It busted everybody's garage door in around here... and closer toward the explosion over here, it busted people's roofs in and walls in and we don't know what it is... It's a warzone over here."

Brady said the explosion was extremely loud.

"This is a disaster," he said. "This is a big disaster. I really don't know what happened... Houston, we could use your prayers."

Another resident named only as Kim said: "The whole house is ruined.

"The whole ceiling crashed down on all of us. We were all trapped in there and a nice family came and helped up out. It's trashed. It's just trashed.

"Every house was devastated."

Adrian, a 15-year-old boy, told AFP that "all of the sudden there was just a big boom and we thought it was an earthquake.

"The window was broken... we turn on the news and we see it was a warehouse not that far away that had blown up."

One resident told KTRK that "the whole ceiling fell in" at her home.

"I thought maybe the house had gotten hit by lightning. And then I realized there was no storm," the resident said. "No one can figure out what happened."

After some hours, firefighters contained a blaze at the scene.