By Ian Krietzberg
Nation & World Editor
An explosion in an industrial building shook the city of Houston in the early hours of Friday morning, killing two workers and severely damaging more than 200 homes and businesses in a shockwave that stretched nearly 14 miles from its point of inception, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The explosion occurred at 4:15 a.m. CT in the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing industrial facility, and razed some 50 homes to the ground, according to CNN. The resulting debris field, according to reports by CNN, stretches nearly a mile from the site of the explosion.
A company representative issued a statement the evening after the incident, saying that “our hearts go out to the families and businesses impacted by this incident and to our community. At this time our immediate concern is the safety and wellbeing of everyone in the area and our employees.”
The victims have been identified by the Houston Fire Chief, Samuel Pena, as Frank Flores and Gerard Castorena, both of whom were employees that were on-site at the time of the explosion.
Of the 20 people that were either taken or self-reported to a hospital, none were reported as having life-threatening injuries, according to CNN.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo described the scene as a “disaster area,” and said that an investigation into the causes of the accident is currently underway and could last several months, according to CNN.
According to CNN, there have been some initial reports that the explosion was incited by propylene gas, but a fire department spokeswoman confirmed only that they know propylene tanks were on-site and involved in the explosion, not that it was the catalyst.
A friend of one of the victims (who she did not identify) was on the phone with one of the victims in the minutes preceding the explosion, according to ABC. According to her, the victim said from the parking lot that it “smells like gas.” She went on the explain that as he and his coworker were going to check it out, he said that he “can hear a loud hissing sound.”
According to ABC, the police evacuated two nearby neighborhoods and warned potential looters that the neighborhoods will be watched over diligently and that any looters will be charged and sentenced harshly.
According to CNN, several shelters were established at churches throughout the city in the wake of this fiery tragedy.