(Updates with some residents given access to homes)
By Colleen Jenkins and Corrie MacLaggan
WEST, Texas, April 20 Officials began allowing
some residents to return to their homes on Saturday for their
first look at the damage from a deadly blast at a Texas
Authorities set strict rules for those being allowed back
inside the evacuated area. Only residents of certain streets
were permitted to retrieve their belongings, and a 7 p.m. CDT
curfew was set for those who chose to stay overnight.
"If they want to stay, it's at their own risk," said Steve
Vanek, a West City Council member, who warned of broken nails
and glass as potential hazards and a limited access to water
The announcement came on a day when officials released few
new details about the explosion on Wednesday night that
flattened sections of this central Texas town, known locally for
its Czech heritage and kolache pastries.
The fire and ensuing blast at West Fertilizer Co, a
privately owned retail facility, gutted a 50-unit apartment
complex, demolished about 50 houses and battered a nursing home
and several schools. Dozens more homes were reported to have
Authorities said the death toll remained at 14 in a town of
some 2,700 people, with 200 people injured.
Most of the confirmed dead were emergency personnel who
responded to the fire and likely were killed by the blast, which
was so powerful it registered as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake.
Crews were working to restore running water to downtown
businesses, and tractor trailers hauled portable classrooms into
town for displaced students.
Officials said they were working hard to restore normality,
but cautioned the process would take time.
"This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint," West Mayor
Tommy Muska told several hundred people gathered for a town hall
"We need to prepare right now for the long haul," said
Muska, whose home was made uninhabitable by the blast.
NO FOUL PLAY
Authorities have said there was no indication of foul play,
although the investigation continues.
Donald Adair, a lifelong resident of West and owner of the
plant's parent company, Adair Grain Inc, issued a statement on
Friday saying he was heartbroken about the losses suffered by so
many families in the community.
He added his company was "working closely with investigative
agencies" and pledged "to do everything we can to understand
what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in
The plant was last inspected for safety in 2011, according
to a Risk Management Plan filed with the federal Environmental
The company, which has fewer than 10 employees, had provided
no contingency plan to the EPA for a major explosion or fire at
the site. It told the EPA in 2011 that a typical emergency
scenario at the facility that holds anhydrous ammonia could
result in a small release in gas form.
The EPA fined the company $2,300 in 2006 for failing to
implement a risk management plan.
Last year, the fertilizer plant stored 1,350 times the
amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety
oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
A person familiar with DHS operations said the company that
owned the West plant did not tell the agency about the
potentially explosive fertilizer as required, leaving one of the
principal regulators of ammonium nitrate - which can also be
used in bomb-making - unaware of any danger there.
FARMERS RELIED ON PLANT
For the farmers who grow corn, wheat, milo and cotton in the
area, the fertilizer plant was critical to their operations. Not
only did the plant mix fertilizer for farmers and deliver it if
needed, but it had a steady business in sprayers and other
equipment for applying the chemicals.
Talk of fines and safety violations at the plant have raised
the ire of some who did business there and who do not know now
whether to be angry, sad, or both.
"I know a lot of people are putting the blame on it," Danny
Mynar, who farms about 2,000 acres (810 hectares) outside West,
said of the plant. "But it served a lot of ranchers and
Mynar's cousin is married to one of the plant operators who
is now assumed to be dead. The employee, Cody Dragoo, mixed the
ammonium nitrate at the plant, said Mynar.
When the fire started, Dragoo, a volunteer firefighter,
rushed to try to put it out. He has not been seen since, said
"He was my best friend," Mynar said. "It is just a sad
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins and Corrie MacLaggan; Additional
reporting by Lisa Maria Garza, Carey Gillam, Tim Gaynor, Joshua
Schneyer, Ryan McNeill, and Janet Roberts; Editing by Mary
Wisniewski, Andre Grenon and Peter Cooney)