(Recasts with names of dead, adds details)
By Tim Gaynor and Colleen Jenkins
WEST, Texas, April 21 Texas officials released
the names of four volunteer firefighters on Sunday killed in a
deadly blast in this close-knit Texas town, as authorities
identified the center but not the cause of last week's deadly
fertilizer plant blast.
Among the dead named at a news conference outside city hall
in West, Texas, were brothers Doug and Robert Snokhous,
remembered by their family as "lifelong best friends" who lived
half a mile (800 meters) from each other and worked together at
an ironworks in nearby Waco.
"Doug and Robert could always be seen together, whether they
were hunting, working on cars, golfing or cooking barbecue at
the volunteer fire departments cook-off," their family said in a
statement read to reporters.
"They were always together and we were always comforted that
they were together at the end."
The brothers were among 14 people, nearly all of them
emergency responders, killed when a blast on Wednesday flattened
the fertilizer plant and smashed several blocks of the small
town, about 80 miles (128 km) south of Dallas. They are survived
by their wives, children and grandchildren.
A liaison official for the Texas Line of Duty Death Task
Force, which cares for the families of fallen first responders,
read a statement for Dane and Rhonda Chapman, whose son Jerry
Chapman died in the blast.
The Chapmans - who stood silently, their heads bowed -
remembered him as man who had "found his passion and life." His
faith in God and his fellow firefighters "gave him the strength
to lay down his life for others," they said.
Officials identified a fourth firefighter, Kevin Sanders.
His family said he gave his life protecting others, adding
simply: "We love him and will miss him very much."
The explosion at the privately owned West Fertilizer Co
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 damaged.
A reporter allowed into the evacuated blast zone on Sunday
said the roof was torn off the apartment complex. Large chunks
of concrete hurled from the plant littered the complex grounds
hundreds of yards (meters) away, and a basketball court was
unrecognizable except for the toppled goals, according to a pool
"This is like a war zone," said Brian Hoback, a national
response team investigator for U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives, among more than 60 federal and state
personnel working at the scene.
Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said a probe had
identified a "large crater at the seat" of the blast, but
neither its cause nor the location of the fire that preceded it
have been determined.
Authorities have said there was no indication of foul play
at the plant, which was last inspected for safety in 2011,
according to a risk management plan filed with the federal
Environmental Protection Agency.
Officials said the death toll remained at 14. McLennan
County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said he did not know of anyone
still unaccounted for, despite persistent rumors.
Matt Cawthon, chief deputy sheriff for McLennan County, said
two of the dead were near or in the apartment complex. He was
unable to give their age or gender.
A male resident from the nursing home died en route to the
hospital after being evacuated, although it appeared his death
was not directly caused by the blast, Cawthon said.
MEMORIES OF TRAUMA
An elementary school in the town is due to reopen on Monday,
with additional temporary classrooms for students from another
local school closed since the blast.
Officials announced a memorial service would be held for the
first responders on the Baylor University campus in Waco, about
20 miles (32 km) to the south, at 2 p.m. CDT (3 p.m. EDT) on
As the probe into the blast continued, hundreds of residents
of the town, known locally for its Czech heritage, sought
healing at church services on Sunday.
About 200 people - including farmers, military veterans and
migrant workers - packed into the Church of the Assumption in
the center of the town for Catholic mass.
Father Boniface Onjefu offered prayers for the 14 dead and
nearly 200 injured in the blast, urging the congregation to "be
strong and move our beloved city ahead. God is with us."
Larry Kaska, who lost his home on the north side of town,
said the mass led by Onjefu brought "some healing" to residents
as they started to rebuild their shattered lives.
"We're turning ... getting back to some normalcy again,"
said Kaska, who is now living at his nephew's home. "Just
hearing his prayers and comfort, and (knowing) that people are
being supportive ... help you out."
But for some at the church service, it was too early to
speak of healing. Among them was Silvestre Duran, a Mexican
migrant whose wife, Lucy, had suffered flashbacks since being
injured as the blast tore through the nursing home where she
Her face was marked by burns, and she had multiple stitches
in her right ear. Their daughter, who also worked at the nursing
home, was injured in the explosion too.
"A lot of people have memories that will be with them for a
long time," Silvestre said.
Another churchgoer, who identified himself only as a farmer
who had lived in West all his life, was still struggling to come
to terms with the toll on the town.
"I lost three of my best friends ... I should have been
maybe there with" them, he said, clearly shaken. "I just
consider myself and my family blessed ... If you don't have
faith in the good Lord, you have nothing."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Paul Thomasch and Eric Walsh)