WEST, Texas – The bodies of 12 people have been recovered after an enormous Texas fertilizer plant explosion that demolished surrounding neighborhoods for blocks and left about 200 other people injured, authorities said today.
Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes said it was "with a heavy heart" that he confirmed 12 bodies had been pulled from the area of the plant explosion in West, about 20 miles north of Waco.
Even before investigators released a confirmed number of fatalities, the names of the dead were becoming known in the town of 2,800, and a small group of firefighters and other first responders who may have rushed toward the plant to battle a pre-explosion blaze was believed to be among them.
Reyes said he could not confirm how many of those killed were first responders. Rescue crews spent much of the day after Wednesday night's blast searching the town for survivors, and Reyes said those efforts were ongoing.
He said authorities had searched and cleared 150 buildings by this morning and still had another 25 to examine.
The mourning had begun at a church service at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church the previous night.
"We know everyone that was there first, in the beginning," said Christina Rodarte, 46, who has lived in West for 27 years. "There's no words for it. It is a small community, and everyone knows the first responders, because anytime there's anything going on, the fire department is right there, all volunteer."
One victim Rodarte knew and whose name was released was Kenny Harris, a 52-year-old captain in the Dallas Fire Department who lived south of West. He was off-duty at the time but responded to the fire to help, according to a statement from the city of Dallas.
With search and rescue efforts continuing, what became immediately clear was that the town's landscape was going to be changed forever by the four-to-five block radius leveled by the blast. An apartment complex was badly shattered, a school set ablaze, and a nursing home was left in ruins.
Residents were kept out of a large swath of West, where search and rescue teams continued to pick through the rubble. Some with permission made forays closer to the destruction and came back stunned, and it was possible that some residents would be let closer to their homes on Friday, emergency workers said.
Garage doors were ripped off homes. Fans hung askew from twisted porches. At West Intermediate School, which was close to the blast site, all of the building's windows were blown out, as well as the cafeteria.
"I had an expectation of what I would see, but what I saw went beyond my expectations in a bad way," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott after his visit. "It is very disturbing to see the site."