The Massive Explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant has caused at least $100 million in insured losses to property. Mark Hanna, spokesman of the Insurance Council of Texas, tellsPC360 from the small rural town of about 2,800 that damages include “concussion-type losses.” That is, some homes look normal from the outside but have suffered damage.
To illustrate the point, Hanna relays a conversation he had with a resident: “She had a can of beans on the kitchen counter and it exploded, but no windows of her house were broken.” In other words, damages may take some time to assess because they may not immediately be noticed. The forces related to the explosion may have affected structures and vehicles differently than a tornado, for example, although the destruction has been described as tornado-like.
The blast April 17 destroyed 140 homes, a middle school, an apartment building, and a retirement center. Insurance adjusters are on the scene assisting policyholders. The explosion killed 15, and injured as many as 200.
Hanna tells another story of a man and his 9-year-old son driving between the apartment building and the retirement center. The truck drove 20 yards on two wheels when the blast occurred. Both were not seriously hurt but the truck was crumpled on one side and is totaled. “Daddy, are we dead?” the son asked his father after the blast.
“We’re hearing a lot of strange stories related to the force of this blast,” says Hanna. “It’s like visiting the site of a tornado and hearing about straw going through wood. It’s hard to believe.”
Hanna says the town is split in three sections. Residents of zone 1, the farthest away from the explosion, have been allowed back to their homes. Zone 2 was just opened. The most affected areas remain closed off.
Hanna reports the Red Cross says it is assisting about 180 families, including those from the apartment complex. Many do not have insurance. Plaintiffs’ attorneys are also in town, says Hanna.
The cause of the blast remains under investigation. Possibly hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate was stored at the facility, a fertilizer retailer.
It is not yet clear who insured the West Fertilizer Co. but PC360 has learned only a handful of carriers serving the agribusiness niche would take on the risk. Independent agents handling the business would ask if ammonium nitrate was stored on the premise. This would not preclude the facility from obtaining insurance but it would trigger additional investigation by a carrier.
PC360 has also learned many facilities like this one have stopped storing ammonium nitrate to avoid additional regulation. Facilities that do store the volatile chemical compound must register with the Department of Homeland Security. Reportedly, this plant did not.