The state of Texas joins the small town of West in mourning today as a public safety official confirmed, “with a heavy heart,” that search and rescue teams pulled 12 bodies from the area of Wednesday evening’s fertilizer plant explosion.
Even before investigators released a confirmed number of fatalities, the names of the dead were becoming known in the town of 2,800—sons, daddies, brothers. The mourning began at a local Catholic church Thursday night.
Many of the deceased were first responders and volunteer firefighters who rushed toward the plant to help battle a pre-explosion blaze, although Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes said he could not confirm the exact number.
"There's no words for it,” said Christina Roberts, 46, who has lived in West for 27 years. “It is a small community, and everyone knows the first responders, because anytime there's anything going on, the fire department is right there, all volunteer.”
One of those victims Rodarte knew was Kenny Harris, a 52-year-old captain in the Dallas Fire Department who lived south of town. He was off duty at the time but responded to the fire to help, according to a statement from the city of Dallas.
The explosion demolished surrounding neighborhoods for blocks, leaving more than 200 people injured, and many more homeless.
Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday declared McLennan County—home to West—a disaster area and said he will be asking President Barack Obama for an emergency disaster declaration as well.
Search and rescue efforts continued early Friday.