World

Two dead in Houston machine shop blast

By AAP Newswire

A massive explosion at a machine shop has ripped through a Houston neighbourhood with police confirming at least two people were killed and several injured while homes were damaged by the explosion that sent out blast waves detected for miles.

"First and foremost, I want to say that we do have confirmed fatalities in this case, at least two confirmed fatalities," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a press briefing after the blast, which happened early Friday morning.

Aerial video showed the shredded and collapsed wreckage of the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing building smouldering but no longer flaming, along with widespread damage to area homes and businesses from the force of the blast.

The moment of the explosion, around 4:25am (local time), was captured on video by a home security camera and aired on KTRK. It showed a blinding flash in the distance followed by a fireball.

At least one person was taken to the hospital, the Houston Fire Department said on Twitter. At least two people had cuts on their faces after their windows were blown in, according to pictures published on the Houston Chronicle website.

"I thought it was thunder," said Bruce Meikle, 78, an owner of nearby manufacturer ChemSystems, who heard the explosion from his home about a mile (1.5 km) from the scene. He told Reuters the force of the blast bent back the metal loading doors at his business and caused minor damage inside, he said.

Paul Crea, 59, a chemist who works for Meikle, said the blast woke him 10 miles (16km) away in Katy, a Houston suburb, and his dogs bellowed at the sound.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the blast was felt as far away as 14 miles (22 km), based on social media reports.

The explosion "knocked us all out of our bed, it was so strong," Mark Brady told KPRC television. "It busted out every window in our house. It busted everybody's garage door in around here. ... It's a war zone over here."

Another neighbour identified only as Kim said her family was trapped in her home until rescued.

"The whole house is ruined," Kim told KPRC, an NBC affiliate.

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

The blast originated at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, which provides coatings, machining and grinding about 10 miles northwest of central Houston.

The company's owner told ABC affiliate KTRK a propylene gas explosion sent two people to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, reporter Marla Carter said on Twitter.

Propylene is a colourless, flammable, liquefied gas that has several industrial uses.