Things that go boom

In April, a fertilizer plant in the small Texas town of West blew up, killing 14 people. As The Times reported: "An estimated 28 to 34 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded in two stages, separated by a fraction of a second, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office. Debris flew up to 2 1/2 miles and the damage extended across a 37-block area." How come that much ammonium nitrate was stored so close to a town? Why did the plant explode? Were lack of regulation or oversight to blame? Does anyone in Texas know, or care? Not according to Gov. Rick Perry, who said: "Through their elected officials, [Texans] clearly send the message of their comfort with the amount of oversight." Perhaps Gov. What, Me Worry? isn't aware that there are about 700 other such fertilizer depots in his state. Although it's true, such explosions don't happen a lot a Texas. But when they do, they're often spectacular. In April 1947 (beware the Ides of April, Texans!), about 600 people were killed in Texas City when a ship carrying -- you guessed it, ammonium nitrate -- exploded. It probably wasn't lack of oversight then either.
Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press
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