WEST (CBSDFW.COM) – More than 15 hours after the deadly blast at a West, Texas fertilizer plant, crews continue to search for survivors trapped in the rubble. At a 3:30 p.m. news conference, Jason Reyes from the Texas Department of Public Safety, classified the efforts as a search and rescue mission saying, “Officials from the state county local are tirelessly working trying to locate individuals.”
Reyes would confirm that people have died from the massive explosion at West Fertilizer Company, but could not give a specific number, even refusing to confirm the previous estimate of five to 15 fatalities given at a previous briefing. More than 160 people were injured and treated at local hospitals. A Dallas Fire Captain, who was initially reported missing, has now been confirmed dead. Dallas Fire-Rescue sent out a statement saying Captain Kenny Harris lived in West, and responded to help, although he was not believed to be involved in any firefighting activity.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who also spoke at the news conference, praised the efforts of first responders, some of whom lost their lives.
“In Texas, our first responders don’t run from harm they run toward helping out,” he said. “In the face of the most incredible danger, first responders ran in to try to save the life of someone else. These first responders literally lost their lives helping others.”
McLennan County has been declared a disaster area by Governor Rick Perry, which allowed Abbott to activate the price gouging statute in Texas.
Abbott warned, “If anyone tries to profiteer off of this tragedy, by hiking up prices for basic needs and necessities, they will be facing the wrong end of a lawsuit from the Texas Attorney General.”
Law enforcement urged the residents of the town, with a population around 2800, to evacuate their homes. The old library has been opened as a community assistance building, where West residents can go for assistance. The post office is also serving as a place where the people of West can go for help.
Access to the immediate area around the blast continues to be restricted only to law enforcement and first responders. ATF and State Fire Marshals are on the ground trying to determine the cause of the explosion. Representatives from both the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency were assessing the area Thursday afternoon to determine any hazards from any potential remaining ammonium nitrate that was stored at the plant.
Attorney General Abbott planned to do a flyover of the area Thursday afternoon to access the damage and pledged support for the people of West.
“These are tough Texans,” he said. “These people who have been affected by this blast are up to dealing with this challenge. It may be a challenge today. It may be a challenge tomorrow. But in the coming months and years these Texans will piece their lives together.”
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