Two more fatalities have been identified, bringing number of dead to 14
Firefighters and emergency responders are among those dead
Small town of West -- population 2,800 -- grapples with loss
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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.
The fiery explosion ripped through the heart of West, a close-knit town about 75 miles south of Dallas and about 20 miles north of Waco. Before Wednesday, West was known as the home of Scott Podsednik of the Boston Red Sox and as the “Czech heritage capital of Texas,” boasting the best kolache in the state.
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.
“It’s devastating. I’ve been a member of the firefighters for 26 years,” Muska said. “These guys are my friends.”
The explosion tore through the roof of West Fertilizer Co., charring much of the structure and sending massive flames into the air.
Muska rushed to the scene to assist in crowd control about 1.5 blocks from the plant. The explosion, which registered as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake, blew his hat off, he said.
It also destroyed his home, he said, making him one of many in the small town of 2,800 to be displaced in the blast’s aftermath. Many, including him, are staying in hotels or with friends, he said.
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.
Felton and Muska joined Perry in thanking volunteers from across the state who came to assist in cleanup. They also expressed gratitude for donations of food and clothes, but said they were running out of places to store them and asked that people instead donate money through the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
“We’ve hit the saturation point on receiving stuff, clothes, food, those kind of things, and we’re running out of places to put it,” Felton said.
Local authorities were working with federal officials to determine the cause of the explosion, Perry said.
“We didn’t know exactly what it was,” he said. “The forecast said a line of thunderstorms was going to come through. My wife and I looked up and wondered, ‘Did it get here six hours early?’ “
As of Thursday afternoon, authorities had not determined what led to the deadly explosion. Cawthon said his sheriff’s office; the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the state fire marshal’s office are working “to determine the exact cause of the situation.”
Czech immigrants arrived in the town in the 1880s, and the community still maintains strong ties to its Central European roots, with businesses named “Little Czech Bakery” and “The Czech Inn.”
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 came as the nation remained on edge after the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday that killed three and left about 180 injured. It happened two days before Friday’s 20th anniversary of a fire in Waco that ended a federal agents’ siege against members of the Branch Davidian sect. More than 80 sect members and some federal agents died.
The blast left a trail of charred devastation in this town, located 75 miles south of Dallas and 20 miles north of Waco.
Perry surveyed the scene from a helicopter and on the ground.
“We are blessed we didn’t lose more people than we actually did,” he said.
CNN’s Elizabeth Landau, Greg Botelho, Josh Levs and Lateef Mungin contributed to this report.