West, TX Fertilizer Plant Explosion, Apr 2013
AT LEAST 14 KILLED IN WEST PLANT EXPLOSION.
DOZENS REMAIN MISSING.
West, Texas - Touring the devastation wreaked by an explosion at a fertilizer facility earlier in the week, the group of men and women spoke in hushed voices as they surveyed the damage Friday afternoon.
The cluster of once-tall, white structures that made up the West Fertilizer Co. facility were crushed by the blast, which so far has claimed 15 lives, most of them firefighters and paramedics who rushed to help.
Nearby, the two-story apartment complex that once housed low-income residents was a mangled mess of lumber, building materials and tenants' personal belongings. Pieces of wood, tires and other trash littered a field next door.
Across the street from the apartments, inside the red brick West Rest Haven nursing home, overturned tables, couches and chairs filled the front rooms.
The tour was for the benefit of Petr Gandalovic, an ambassador from the Czech Republic, who wanted to see the damage caused to this small farming community with a strong Czech heritage.
Block after block, homes were missing windows and swaths of roofs. Vehicles with shattered windshields had been picked up and thrown back down - some on yards.
Red and black "X's" check marks and the letters "OK" were spray painted on exterior walls - triage markings made by Texas Task Force 1 and 2 to indicate they had been searched.
The devastation was clear, the casualties still being tallied.
By Friday evening there were still conflicting reports on the number of fatalities, the number of people missing and a timeline for when residents would be allowed to go back to their homes to survey the damage.
West Mayor Tommy Muska said at an evening briefing that 14 people were confirmed dead. Officials released no names or ages.
However, a source familiar with the search and rescue efforts who wasn't authorized to speak to the media put the number of fatalities at 15.
Twelve bodies were recovered in and around the plant, all are believed to be either firefighters or paramedics. Two were found in a nearby apartment complex, the source said Friday afternoon, and a man living in the West Rest Haven nursing home died after being evacuated.
Eleven other West firefighters were injured, according to a state fire marshal and firefighter website.
"It's devastating," Muska said. "These guys are my friends. One of them was my city secretary. I talked to him every day and now he's not there."
The names of the dead were trickling out throughout the day but none have been officially confirmed. Their bodies were being sent to the Dallas forensic center for autopsies.
About 200 people were reported injured in the blast and by Friday morning, officials had counted 50 homes destroyed.
At the end of the day, searchers had cleared all buildings except one home, said Nim Kidd, chief of emergency management.
Two firetrucks and an ambulance also were destroyed.
Gov. Rick Perry said state agencies and the Legislature would be looking into whether such a residential area should have been built next to a plant that housed volatile chemicals.
"If there's a better way to do this, we want to know about it," Perry said.
He said the plant had been inspected in 2004 and 2011 and nothing was flagged about chemicals that should not have been there.