Cars were sent careening off highways, windows shattered and a jetliner was jolted in the air by the chain of atomic bomb-like blasts that tore through a rocket fuel plant here.
"I was sitting in a booth eating pizza, and the windows blew out," Officer Michael Peterson of the Nevada Highway Patrol said Wednesday, after the explosions erupted from the industrial park 10 miles from Las Vegas."We thought the whole building was going down," he said. "Everybody took off right away."
Cars traveling on Highway 148 were knocked off the road by the concussion, and motorists were injured, said Capt. Terry Edwards of the Clark County Fire Department.
"People in their vehicles on this road were injured and their cars were damaged," he said. "They just went off the road and wrecked."
Authorities said more than 250 people were injured and one person was killed by the explosions, which struck just before noon Wednesday at the plant that manufactures ingredients for space shuttle rocket fuel.
The blasts, which made gamblers briefly flee at least one casino, were recorded by seismographs at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, 200 miles away.
"It flipped cars over, knocked pedestrians to the ground, and windows in the whole town shattered," said Susan Russo, 37, a Henderson resident who was in her pickup truck at the time of the blasts.
Gaming tables were briefly abandoned at Sam's Town on Boulder Highway, but 15 minutes later it appeared there was no danger and hundreds of gamblers went back inside, said resort spokeswoman Shelley Roberts.
A Las Vegas-bound America West jetliner approaching McCarran International Airport was rocked by the blasts, said passenger John Conrad, 62, of Westlake Village, Calif.
"We felt a little jolt. The second explosion looked like a mini-atomic bomb," he said. "There was a tall column of smoke going up 20,000 feet."
There were no injuries aboard Flight 46, which originated in Burbank, Calif.
"First we saw these very intense, hot flames. It didn't mean much to us at first. We thought they were burning tires or something. Then, there was another slight jolt," he said.
Several large windows and sliding glass doors at the airport - less than 10 miles from the blast site - were shattered by the explosion, and some ceiling tiles were knocked loose, said airport spokesman Roy Clawson.
Pacific worker Joe Hedrick, 30, said he heard a series of four explosions over several minutes, with the fourth blast sounding the most powerful.
Hendrick, tearful and distraught, with cuts on his arms, said he an two co-workers were assembling a pollution control device when they heard a pop and the room filled with smoke.
Hedrick said he fled in his truck and was about 2 miles from the plant when another explosion shattered the windshield.