orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

Breaking news

April 19, 2013

Texas town grieves for dead first-responders

(Continued)

WEST, Texas —

Following a tour of the rubble Friday, Gov. Rick Perry told reporters the search-and-rescue phase for anyone still trapped was largely finished. He said the state would offer help to the 29-member local fire department that had been "basically wiped out."

"To the first-responders: I cannot say thank you enough," Perry said.

Earlier in the day, Edward Smith, a volunteer chaplain for the Dallas Police Department, counseled firefighters at West's fire station.

"Right now, the general public might be saying, 'Well, why aren't they talking about this?'" Smith said of the firefighters. "They don't necessarily even want to talk about it. They're holding out hope."

In a town of just 2,800 people, everyone here knew someone affected by the explosion.

Officials offered reassurances Friday about the 60 or so people listed as unaccounted for after the blast. McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said many people on the list probably lost their homes and have simply been difficult to locate since the Wednesday evening accident.

"I think we're going to eliminate 99 percent" of those listed, he said.

The fertilizer facility stores and distributes anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer that can be injected into soil. It also mixes other fertilizers.

Plant owner Donald Adair released a statement saying he never would forget the "selfless sacrifice of first-responders who died trying to protect all of us."

One of the plant employees also was killed responding to the fire, Adair said.

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, said Friday evening that investigators still were combing through debris and would continue Saturday.

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