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West, Texas, residents push to get back to their homes

April 20, 2013|By Rick Rojas and John M. Glionna
  • "We just want to get home," West, Texas, resident Pete Arias said.
"We just want to get home," West, Texas, resident Pete Arias… (Charlie Riedel / Associated…)

WEST, Texas -- Residents displaced by a blast this week at a local fertilizer factory that killed at least 14 people and leveled countless homes lined up Saturday for a chance to return to their dwellings for the first time to eyeball the damage.

Authorities said Friday that they would begin opening up areas that had been blocked off to residents but were not sure how that process would take place, saying they did not want to risk another explosion like the one that rocked the West Fertilizer Co. on Wednesday night.

But some residents Saturday said they were growing impatient, anxious to check out their houses, collect medicine and clothes and tend to pets left behind.

"We just want to get home," resident Pete Arias told the Los Angeles Times after signing up Saturday at a downtown church hall. "Get to fixing the house up, and get back to life."

He knows his house had its windows blown out, but is unsure what further damage has been done after a storm passed through and days left open to the elements.

His frustration was being directed at local officials.

"There are a lot of people in this community who are not getting straight answers," he said. "Tell us. Be honest with the citizens."

Mayor Tommy Muska said Saturday that the situation was still in flux and that he was giving out information as soon as officials could determine whether the area was safe.

Muska, whose house was also damaged in the blast, said the thrust would now move into recovery phase and that he understood citizens wanted to get inside their homes.

On Friday, some residents were allowed to return briefly to their dwellings to retrieve valuables, but others were still waiting their turn.

Meanwhile, the owner of the plant said he was heartbroken over the loss of lives.

Donald Adair said in a statement that he would never forget the "selfless sacrifice of first-responders who died trying to protect all of us," adding that a plant employee was also killed responding to the fire.

Federal investigators and the state fire marshal's office began inspecting the blast site Friday to collect evidence that may point to a cause. Franceska Perot, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the Associated Press that investigators still were combing through debris and would continue Saturday.

Residents cannot return to their homes until investigators are finished, Perot said. She did not have a timetable on when that might be.


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