WEST, Texas (UPI) — The bodies of 12 people were recovered from the site of a West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion that demolished surrounding neighborhoods, authorities said.
At least 200 people were injured and 150 homes, three rescue trucks and a fire truck were destroyed in Wednesday’s fire and explosion, USA Today reported Friday.
Federal and state investigators were waiting Friday for clearance to enter the blast area to search for clues to the cause of the blast.
“It’s still too hot to get in there,” said Franceska Perot, spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
West Volunteer Fire Department members and emergency medical service workers, the first on the scene of the fire, were among those killed, West Mayor Tommy Muska said.
Dallas fire Capt. Kenny Harris, who lived in West, was among those killed in the explosion, WFAA-TV, Dallas, reported.
“Capt. Harris rushed to the scene compelled to provide assistance to his community during this crisis,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “I want to express my deepest condolences to his family, friends and co-workers.”
Many homes and other buildings were flattened by the explosion Wednesday in the town of 2,500 residents. Search-and-rescue crews moved carefully from one shaky structure to another near the site of the explosion, shoring them up before searching for survivors.
“It’s a very slow and methodical search,” Waco Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said Thursday.
The injured were taken to trauma centers and hospitals in Waco, Temple and Dallas, and the Red Cross set up an emergency shelter 15 miles away that was relatively unused, USA Today said.
“Most (homeless) people stayed with relatives or friends. The whole town’s pulled together,” said Red Cross coordinator Anita Foster.
Condolences came from around the world, including from Pope Francis, along with help from around the state. President Barack Obama called to offer federal support to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who declared McLennan County a disaster area to begin the process of receiving federal aid for cleanup and reconstruction.
Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told CNN the cause of the disaster may not be determined for weeks.
“Unless we know something else, right now it’s an industrial accident,” he said. “But we’re going to get to the bottom of this to find out what happened because we don’t want to see this ever happen again.”
Inspectors from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency were in West to determine whether it was safe for rescuers to go onto the site.
Sgt. Jason Reyes of the Texas Department of Public Safety said it was unclear when the affected area would be opened to residents, the Morning News said.
“It’s still a very volatile situation,” McLennan County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon said.
Questions have been raised about safety at the plant. The company told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality when it applied for a permit there was no risk of explosion from its two 12,000-gallon tanks of anhydrous ammonia, the Morning News said. The company, which distributes fertilizer to farmers, received the permit in December 2006.
However, the facility told a state agency in February it was storing as much as 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, the explosive chemical compound used in the April 19, 1995, attack on the Oklahoma City federal building, NBC News reported. The company’s risk management plan filed with the federal EPA in 2011 did not mention ammonium nitrate.
NBC said the company has received several disciplinary actions from state and federal regulators since 2006.