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Residents near Texas plant explosion allowed to return home

By Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 4:17 PM EDT, Sat April 20, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • West, Texas, "is safe for our citizens," Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek says
  • Residents can return home but will have limited utilities and a curfew, he says
  • Town of West -- population 2,800 -- grapples with loss; death toll remains at 14

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(CNN) -- Days after a fertilizer plant explosion killed 14 people and leveled parts of a central Texas town, officials moved Saturday to help get residents back to their homes.

"I want to dispel any rumors of any health or safety hazards or threats at this time in the city of West," Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek told reporters without specifying what those rumors may have been. "It is safe, it is safe, it is safe for our citizens."

Arrangements were being made for insurance adjusters to gain access to the stricken areas, he said.

Several found dead, many still missing
U.S. President Barack Obama attends a memorial service at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, on April 25. The memorial was held for those killed in the blast at a Texas fertilizer plant. Fourteen people, nearly all first responders, died in an explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. on April 17. See photos from the explosion. U.S. President Barack Obama attends a memorial service at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, on April 25. The memorial was held for those killed in the blast at a Texas fertilizer plant. Fourteen people, nearly all first responders, died in an explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. on April 17. See photos from the explosion.
West, Texas: A community mourns
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State fire marshals and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives have completed their investigation "on certain parts of the affected area," and some residents were being allowed to return, he said.

But Vanek warned that their access to water, electricity and natural gas will be limited and that they will be subject to a curfew from sunset until 7 a.m. He urged residents to avoid the glass, debris and nails that litter much of the area.

The explosion on Wednesday night tore through the roof of West Fertilizer Co., charring much of the structure and sending massive flames into the air.

The dead included the secretary, who was also a member of the volunteer fire department, said Mayor Tommy Muska.

In total, five West firefighters died battling the blaze, along with one Dallas firefighter and four emergency responders, the State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas said Thursday.

The destruction made it hard to account for exactly how many people had been displaced, McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said Friday. He estimated that 99% of people originally thought to be missing had been accounted for.

"It's going to be a long recovery for this community," Gov. Rick Perry said Friday.

Local authorities were working with federal officials to determine the cause of the explosion, Perry said.

In its most recent report, the Texas Department of State Health Services said that in 2012, the facility held a number of potentially toxic products, including 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, which can be explosive.

In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency fined the company that ran the plant $2,300 and told the owners to correct problems that included a failure to file a risk management program plan on time.

Seven years ago, a complaint was filed against the company for a lingering smell of ammonia, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality website shows.

The blast left a trail of charred devastation in this town, located 75 miles south of Dallas and 20 miles north of Waco.

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