In the latest reports coming out of West, TX, approximately 200 people are reported to have suffered injuries in Wednesday night's massive fertilizer plant explosion. For the past day, search and rescue teams have been hard at work to locate what has been a frighteningly unknown number of bodies. While the work continues, Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes reported early Friday morning that they have confirmed at least 12 bodies have been recovered from the area surrounding the massive plant explosion.
West Mayor Tommy Muska, who is himself also a volunteer firefighter, reported that three or four volunteer firefighters are still not accounted for after the blast; however, one of the missing law officers, who was previously feared to be dead, was found alive. The man served as a constable and volunteer firefighter and helped respond to the blaze before going missing; he has since been hospitalized with severe injuries. In such a small town, where the volunteer roster only includes 29 names, such a heavy loss is devastating.
Muska told USA Today that the current death toll is estimated to be around 35 people, including 10 first responders. Victims of the plant explosion include five volunteer firefighters, four EMS workers and one off-duty Dallas firefighters. Half of West, TX has since been evacuated, with officials who are on the ground, including the National Guard, remaining in search and rescue mode. Authorities are stating that it's unclear how long it will be until they know the full extent of the damage from the blast.
"It's just a tragic, tragic incidence," Muska said in a Thursday night news conference. "I ask for your prayers."
Beyond the injuries and loss of life, the town of West has also suffered immense property damage, with a four-block area being completely decimated. The damaged buildings included 50 to 75 houses, a 50-unit apartment complex, middle school, and nursing home. Following the explosion, more than 130 patients were evacuated from the West Rest Haven Nursing Home—all of whom have since been accounted for.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have both sent teams to West to immediately begin federal investigations. The ATF dispatched local agents from Houston, as well as a separate national response team, which includes fire investigators, explosives experts, chemists, and canine units. Officials are saying that it could take months to fully understand what the cause of the accident was, although attention is on the stored chemicals—including the 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia it was licensed for, and the 270 tons of ammonium nitrate present at the end of 2012.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has also sent personnel from state agencies to help in the aftermath, including the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, the emergency management department, incident management team. This does not include the search and rescue team, state health department and the several mobile medical units which were sent to help care for the wounded.
Perry held a press conference on Thursday, stating "This tragedy has most likely hit every family, touched practically everyone in that town. I ask all Americans and Texans to join me and Anita in keeping them in our prayers." Perry has since declared the McLennan County as a disaster area and is calling for federal relief. Same day, President Barack Obama called the governor from Air Force One; he later issued a statement telling the community of West that he was praying for them, and thanked the first responders who have worked so hard to help battle the flame, as well as treat those who were injured.
"My Administration, through FEMA and other agencies, is in close contact with our state and local partners on the ground to make sure there are no unmet needs as search and rescue and response operations continue," Obama said. "West is a town that many Texans hold near and dear to their hearts, and as residents continue to respond to this tragedy, they will have the support of the American people."
Throughout the nation, individuals, families, and communities are coming together to support the West, TX community. In a headline-making move, country icon Willie Nelson stated that he would be turning an upcoming Texas concert—which originally was planned as an 80th birthday celebration—into a benefit for West. Although Nelson currently lives in Austin, he has a home five miles north of West.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of West," Nelson said in an interview. "There are a lot of our friends and loved ones and neighbors down there. We talked to some of them and some of them made it out okay, and some of them didn't. But they're strong and they'll be back. It's one of those things you don't get over. But you will get through it."
Currently, the town says that it doesn't need more individuals on-site, but it does need the helping hands of the American people. A Central Texas blood center is currently calling for donors, saying that blood is going to be in great demand in the upcoming weeks. All donations are currently welcome, but they are stating that they are especially in need of Type-O Negative and platelets. Other ways in which you can help is by sending donations of non-perishable items to The Southwest Future Farms of America, e.g., diapers, bottle water, and clothes. The San Antonio Food Bank is also currently accepting donations.
To learn about places where you can donate blood, visit www.carterbloodcare.org.