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West, Texas, continues grim search in wake of fertilizer explosion

April 19, 2013|By Cindy Carcamo and John M. Glionna
  • Valley Mills Fire Department personnel gather near the fertilizer plant that exploded in West, Texas.
Valley Mills Fire Department personnel gather near the fertilizer plant… (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images )

WEST, Texas – This tiny Central Texas town with Czech roots continued the grim task Friday of pulling bodies from the rubble of a massive explosion at a fertilizer factory.

Among the dead are expected to be 12 firefighters and first responders who arrived to fight a raging blaze at the West Fertilizer Co. when the blast occurred. Authorities also sought to remove additional bodies from a nearby residential complex.

Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes told the Associated Press that it was "with a heavy heart" that he confirmed a dozen bodies had been pulled from the area of the plant explosion in West, about 20 miles north of Waco.

The removal of the bodies began late Thursday as local firefighters lined up to pay respects to the dead as they were brought from the rubble, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Workers also found two bodies in the adjacent residential complex, the newspaper reported.

The town remained in shock Friday. It was unclear whether businesses, closed Thursday in honor of the dead, would reopen. The Friday morning headline of the Tribune-Herald read “Pray for Us.”

“We’ve got a big day ahead of us,” West Mayor Tommy Muska told the Times.

Many were hoping to return to their homes and assess the damage Friday.

On an overcast morning, Jacki and Pete Arias drove with their 8-year-old son Samuel from Waco toward West, hoping to get past police barricades to their home about a half-mile away from the fertilizer plant.

The windows of their home blew inward and they worried about what may remain of the house.  They worried about their cat Nick, missing after the blast. The couple said they’re frustrated but happy they managed to escape with their lives.

“You know what? If you can walk out of a place that just blew out and you don’t have any cuts and scratches, you’re doing OK,” she said.

“It is by far one of, if not the worst, [disasters] we have seen in the state of Texas,” Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner told the Tribune-Herald.

The community reached out to its own Thursday as residents donated food and other items. Many waited in line to give blood.

Everyone did what they could, a fact that was highlighted in an morning newspaper editorial in West.

“Much as we might like, not all of us can ride to the rescue with specialized training and equipment when disaster strikes,” read the Tribune Herald. “But other ways also count, like rolling up your sleeves.”

ALSO:

Donations flow to blast victims

West, Texas has deep Czech roots

West Fertilizer Co. had spotty regulatory history, records show

cindy.carcamo@latimes.com

john.glionna@latimes.com

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