Texas officials have recovered 14 bodies from the disaster zone around the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that exploded Wednesday evening. They do not expect the death toll to rise.
Ten of the dead were first-responders who rushed to the plant when it caught fire. Five belonged to West’s volunteer fire department. Four were emergency medics.
Search and rescue teams took two days to painstakingly comb through demolished buildings, often stopping to shore up unstable structures before moving forward.
Even as they mourned the loss and destruction, West residents pledged to rebuild. But as of Friday night, those who lived closest to the plant still had not been able to get back to their homes to evaluate the damage.
Bill Killough, 76, paced the lobby of a local hotel Friday, strategizing to make the most of whatever time authorities give him to visit his house two-and-a-half blocks from the site.
“Once they get through totally going over that fertilizer plant that blew up and they are satisfied that it is no danger to anybody, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be allowed to go back to our houses,” he said.
Killough snuck back shortly after the blast and said the damage was bad, but not much worse than when they stripped the house down to its frame to renovate several years ago. The blast ripped apart homes, schools, and a nursing home within a five-block radius, injuring more than 200 people.
The fertilizer facility stores and distributes anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer that can be injected into soil. It also mixes other fertilizers.
Plant owner Donald Adair released a statement saying he never would forget the “selfless sacrifice of first-responders who died trying to protect all of us.” One of his employees died responding to the fire, he said.
Federal investigators and the state fire marshal’s office began inspecting the blast site Friday to collect evidence that may point what caused the explosion and fire. The investigation will continue today.
Residents cannot return to their homes until investigators are finished, and officials have not released a timetable on when that might be.
Late Friday, during an address marking the capture of the remaining Boston bombing suspect, President Barack Obama acknowledged the Texas tragedy that has largely gone unnoticed in the rest of the country.
“I want them to know that they are not forgotten,” he said, pledging to provide resources to recover and rebuild. Shortly after that, the president signed a disaster declaration for West.