West Fertilizer Co.

A memorial dedicated to the lives lost in the West plant explosion stands in a field across the site of the incident. One year after the explosion, residents of West are still rebuilding houses and businesses in the community. A memorial will be held Thursday evening at West Fair and Rodeo Grounds to commemorate the anniversary. 

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

WEST — One year after a fertilizer plant exploded, killing 15 people and injuring more than 300, the residents of West are rebuilding. 

West, a farming town located approximately 20 miles outside of Waco, has a population of less than 3,000 and an all-volunteer fire department. On April 17, 2013, a fire broke out, causing stores of ammonium nitrate at the West Fertilizer Co. to detonate. Of the 15 people killed in the explosion, nine were first responders.

The explosion, which had force comparable to that of a small earthquake, caused severe damage to surrounding buildings, including stores and homes. The local high school, located across the railroad tracks, had to be demolished and has yet to be rebuilt. 

Small wooden stars with positive messages such as “God bless West!” stand, hang or lie in the yards of almost every lot around the field where the plant used to be. Some of the surrounding properties have been left untouched since the explosion — one lot holds a house without a roof, windows or doors, and a tree bearing the remnants of a tree house. Other lots are now under construction. 

Suzanne Hack, executive director of the West Long Term Recovery Center — a nonprofit organization created to provide guidance, resources and education about rebuilding efforts — said the town has issued 28 certificates of occupancy and 205 building permits since the explosion. Hack said many local contractors and builders are working to rebuild houses in the town. 

David Eubanks, an electrical contractor from West, said he has worked on six new houses since the explosion. He said people have steadily been moving back into their houses.

According to Hack, the recovery center received $3.6 million in donations since the explosion last year. 

“I wasn’t here when [the organization] started, but my understanding was that whenever the explosion occurred, a number of disaster relief organizations were immediately on the scene,” Hack said. “The leaders of those organizations, as well as leaders in the West community, got together and discussed forming this organization.” 

West resident Trish Webber said her family’s lawn mower repair business and part of her family’s house were both destroyed in the explosion.

“For us, because we had the business that was destroyed also, we were not only out of our home, but we were out of work,” Webber said. “Our main focus was getting the business back.”

Webber said they were able to rebuild the business in two months but have only recently started seeing their customers come back because April is lawn mower season.

“Because we have the business, we’re seeing our customers come back for the first time, so we pretty much talk about the explosion every day,” Webber said. “I think it helps. I never talked about it a whole lot, and now I’m having to because I’m seeing a lot of people for the first time.”

Cindy Grones, an X-ray technician from West, said her house, located just across the railroad tracks from the plant, was destroyed in the explosion.

Standing in the wooden skeleton of her new home — which is scheduled to be completed in late August, with the help of a local contractor and longtime family friend — Grones said returning to her house after the explosion was an emotional experience.

“I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, but I remember we came back on April 27 and it was horrible,” Grones said. “Just destruction everywhere. You had to dig through your stuff and wipe all the fertilizer off.” 

Grones said rebuilding is only a small part of the recovery process.

“I think this is part of the recovery — the building part,” Grones said. “The emotional part — it’s going to be a long time. I don’t think none of us will get through this totally. People say you can get over it, but I don’t think so. You just learn how to deal with it day by day. You love your family. You try to do what you can.”

Grones said the residents of West have grown closer since the explosion.

“We knew just about everybody [that was killed], and if you didn’t know them personally, you knew of them,” Grones said. “West is a small town, but I don’t think anybody really realized how close we really are with each other.”

Cindy Grones’ youngest daughter, 15-year-old Anna Grones, said things have started to return to normal in West.

“Right after it happened, people who never talked to me before would come talk to me,” Anna Grones said. “It’s all back to normal now. If you try to talk about it, sometimes people say you’re just trying to get attention.”

Anna Grones said she is optimistic about the town’s rebuilding efforts.

“It’s no biggie,” she said. “We got this.”

Piles of rubble, such as the remains of this house on Jerry Mashek Drive, still exist a year after the fertilizer plant explosion in West. New regulations for ammonium nitrate storage are being considered to prevent any future incidents. 

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

As a result of a fertilizer plant explosion in West exactly one year ago, state politicians are considering new regulations for ammonium nitrate storage in fireproof bins or by installing fire sprinklers.

Ammonium nitrate is often used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. When exposed to heat, the chemical becomes explosive. Investigators confirmed ammonium nitrate as the material that exploded in West. 

The State House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety heard recommendations from several state agencies and officials Monday. State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who is also chairman of the committee, said he asked state agencies to work together to form testimonies and recommendations to the committee.

“The goal is to give some direction, with [the committee] support to the state agencies on coming up with a very specific plan for West,” Pickett said. “We will be looking at how to go forward and try to keep these situations from happening in the future.” 

Pickett said he would like to draft legislation by the end of this summer for the 84th Texas State Legislature commencing in January. However, Pickett said he did not necessarily want to file legislation to initiate a statewide fire code but, rather, wants narrow legislation on the issue.

State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said there are nearly 100 ammonium nitrate facilities in the state. Connealy said approximately half of those facilities store ammonium nitrate in wooden, flammable buildings similar to the West Fertilizer Co. facility.

“We have to keep fire away from ammonium nitrate,” Connealy said. “If you want to keep ammonium nitrate in a combustible facility, you need to put fire sprinklers in there.”

Connealy said investigators still don’t know the cause of the initial fire. For rural areas, it is more difficult to implement sprinklers within facilities because these facilities typically don’t have water distribution systems, according to Connealy, who said the best way to prevent another explosion is to isolate the ammonium nitrate by storing it in a noncombustible bin made of concrete, stone or metal, and keeping vegetation away from it.

“Ammonium nitrate is pretty stable in its normal state, and as long as you keep fire and those things that could catch on fire away from it so it doesn’t travel and get to that bin, you’ve largely fixed the problem,” Connealy said.

Connealy said he recommended that agricultural businesses be given a three-year time frame to comply and accumulate funds to pay for the equipment. 

Williamson County Grain in Taylor, Texas once delivered and stored ammonia nitrate but stopped doing so in July because of the West explosion, according to manager Joe Mueck. The facility is near a school, which is part of a greater residential area.

Pickett said he worries people will stop working to regulate ammonium nitrate storage in the future.

“I think that is our responsibility and our duty,” Pickett said. “Knowing this committee and the makeup of this committee, I think we’ve got enough people here that can give us a perspective to do something that makes sense and keep the business acumen alive.”

WEST — John Crowder stood on the gray concrete slab where his house once was, pointing out one spot after another. There was the garage where an overflow of guests would eat their Christmas dinner. There was the dining room where he ate meals with his wife and college-bound daughter.

There was the chair where he would have been sitting, had he been home the night of the fertilizer plant explosion that ruined his home and many others in West.

"All the memories come back to mind. You think about the good times you had there," said Crowder, who watched the house come down last week. "That was hard. But that's an important step. That's the only way to move forward."

The slabs popping up across town are one sign that the effort to rebuild West has just begun, almost two months after an explosion that killed 15, injured 200 and forever changed life here. Town officials and many lifelong residents desperately want to keep people from moving away, but they face many obstacles: rebuilding schools and water lines, helping residents who in some cases are short tens of thousands of dollars and reassuring residents that their once-tranquil streets will be safe again.

Many displaced residents promise they will try to come back, saying they missed West's quiet streets and friendly neighbors. Even by the standards of a small Texas town, roots run deep in a community where many of the last names, street names and bakeries serving kolache pastries still recall West's Czech origins.

But there's still no running drinkable water in the area closest to West Fertilizer Co., now a 93-foot-wide crater where investigators could not figure out what caused the blast. The school district hopes to put older students this fall in portable buildings on the lot where part of the middle school once stood. And it's unclear where many people, particularly residents of an assisted-living center partially caved in after the blast, will come back to live.

"We want people in West — that's my charge," said Tommy Muska, the town mayor. "My job is to keep them here and to convince them, one way or the other, to plan on building."

Muska said he hoped to replace damaged water and sewer lines throughout town at an estimated cost of $3 million. For now, crews are demolishing ruined homes and clearing them away, breaking a weekslong quiet on many streets with the loud rumble of excavators smashing through walls.

Even if infrastructure comes back, money is still a challenge for those trying to rebuild their homes. Phil Immicke, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in West, said he kept hearing the same thing after the blast. Demolition was costing residents anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, with the money often coming out of an already too-small check for rebuilding their entire home.

Crowder, who is pastor of First Baptist, and Immicke have made demolition part of their ministry. The church used $200,000 in donations to knock down an initial 50 homes, with another 50 to come. The church borrowed construction equipment and volunteer work crews, using the donation money to pay for fuel and removing debris.

Immicke — a police officer who jokes that he's now a de facto construction foreman — said he sees the immediate impact demolition has on residents.

"When they walk into their lot and see a clean lot, they can say, "OK," and they can bring a contractor and say, 'This is what I want.'"

W.R. "Bo" Bohannan, 84, watched the home he lived in for 52 years get torn down last week. He told a work crew on the scene that he wanted them to try to save the trees in his front yard. Otherwise, he said he was ready to get going. As an excavator plowed through the back of the home, Bohannan watched without visible emotion.

Bohannan was inside the night of the blast, but escaped without serious injuries. He said his reason for staying, and not using his insurance payout to move somewhere else, was simple.

"My wife wanted to rebuild it, so we're going to rebuild it," he said.

Patricia Webre had lived in her home a few streets away since 1984. She held her new Bichon Frise dog, Levi, in her arms as her house was torn down last week by a crew not affiliated with the church.

Her last dog had run out of the house during the blast and never came back. An occasional tear went down her cheek as she watched.

"This is the only home they grew up in," she said of her three children, who were also watching.

About 200 homes in West were destroyed or severely damaged. It's unclear how many of those homeowners were uninsured or underinsured. But two people who lost their homes said they expected to incur tens of thousands in costs above what they received through insurance.

"They just saw my situation differently than I did," said Crowder, who estimated his gap at about $60,000.

The federal Small Business Administration, through its disaster assistance program, has approved 70 low-interest home loans for about $5.8 million, with more applications pending, SBA spokesman Kevin Wynne said. Muska and other local officials are also organizing a charity effort to help residents with unmet needs. Volunteers have put up wood cubicles and offices in a theater that's now the center for residents needing help.

The people in charge of the center say they have potentially hundreds of volunteers who want to clean yards and build new buildings, but face an ongoing struggle to get residents who need help to ask for it. They also worry that a rash of recent disasters that have gotten national attention — the tornadoes in Moore, Okla., and North Texas among them — might lead to some donors forgetting about West.

"You've got to keep moving forward to let them be assured that West is going to rebuild, that there is going to be a community here of which you can raise your family in," said Susanne Nemmer, the recovery center's administrative coordinator.

She said her goal, as well as that of many others working in town, was not to build "bigger and better," but to restore the town to what it was: "Let's keep it West."

Investigators may find the cause of the fire and subsequent explosion in West by May 10, the state fire marshal told lawmakers Wednesday.

The West Fertilizer Co. plant explosion killed 15 people, injured more than 200 and destroyed 142 homes and several buildings, including a nursing home and two schools.

Speaking to the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy likened the ongoing investigation to an archaeological dig and said investigators — who represent 28 state and federal agencies — are working to reconstruct the cause of the explosion by examining the 14.9 acres affected by the blast.

“This is a very complex event as you can imagine, and we want to make sure we do it correctly,” Connealy said.

The marshal said investigators have ruled out a natural event, such as a lightning strike, as the cause, but three other categories of probable causes — accidental, incendiary and “undetermined” — are still on the table.

Connealy spoke at the first hearing regarding the explosion, where representatives from eight state agencies assessed their role in overseeing and regulating plants such as the one in West.

As of February, the plant contained 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical with explosive capabilities, said David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. He said 41 other facilities in the state also have large amounts of the chemical.

Lakey said facilities with fewer than 10,000 pounds of ammonium do not have to report possession of the chemical because it is not included on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of dangerous substances.

Officials said local fire departments are authorized to inspect these facilities. Texas Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said he had not directed fire departments in cities with similar plants to conduct inspections but said he could do so upon lawmakers’ request.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, chairs the House committee and said the hearing was intended to clarify agencies’ role in handling the aftermath of the explosion and overseeing similar plants. He said he did not intend for lawmakers to get involved in the investigation or “to point fingers.”

“I want to take it at a pace that is not a knee-jerk reaction to things,” Pickett said after the hearing.

Legislators in Washington will also examine the cause of the blast.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the committee would investigate the circumstances surrounding the explosion. Boxer sent letters to the Chemical Safety Board and Environmental Protection Agency asking how they would follow up on the situation.

“I cannot rest until we get to the bottom of what caused the disaster in West, Texas, and the tragic loss of life,” Boxer said in a press release. “It is critical that we find out how this happened.”

Investigators may determine cause of West explosion soon

An investigation into the origin and cause of the fire and subsequent explosion in West may be completed by May 10, the state fire marshal told lawmakers Wednesday.

The West Fertilizer Co. plant explosion killed 15 people — including 12 first responders — injured more than 200 and destroyed 142 homes and several buildings, including a nursing home and two schools.

Speaking to the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy likened the ongoing investigation to an archaeological dig and said investigators — who represent 28 state and federal agencies — are working to reconstruct the cause of the explosion by examining the 14.9 acre blast radius.

“This is a very complex event as you can imagine and we want to make sure we do it correctly,” Connealy said.

The marshal said investigators have ruled out a natural event, such as a lightning strike, as the cause but three other categories of probable causes — accidental, incendiary and undetermined — are still on the table.

Connealy spoke at the first hearing regarding the explosion, where representatives from eight state agencies assessed their role in overseeing and regulating plants such as the one in West.

As of February, the plant contained 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical with explosive capabilities, said David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. He said 41 other facilities in the state also have large amounts of the chemical.

Lakey said facilities with fewer than 10,000 pounds of ammonium do not have to submit reports because the chemical is not included on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of dangerous substances.

Steve McCraw, Texas Department of Public Safety director, said about 1,100 plants in Texas store the chemical.

Officials said local fire departments are authorized to inspect these facilities. Texas Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said he had not directed fire departments in cities with similar plants to conduct inspections, but said he could do so upon lawmakers’ request.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, chairs the House committee and the hearing was intended to clarify agencies’ role in handling the aftermath of the explosion and overseeing similar plants. He said he did not intend for lawmakers to get involved in the investigation or “to point fingers.”

“I want to take it at a pace that is not a knee-jerk reaction to things,” Pickett said after the hearing.

Legislators in Washington will also examine the cause of the blast.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the committee would investigate the circumstances surrounding the explosion. Boxer sent letters to the Chemical Safety Board and Environmental Protection Agency asking how each would follow up on the situation.

"I cannot rest until we get to the bottom of what caused the disaster in West, Texas and the tragic loss of life,” Boxer said in a press release. “It is critical that we find out how this happened.”

The first lawsuits have been filed against West Fertilizer Co.’s parent company Adair Grain, Inc. following the deadly explosion on April 17. The blast killed 15 people, injured up to 200 others and left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Those filing suit cite negligence as the tragedy’s cause.

Texas lawmakers are also taking action. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, have launched inquiries into the state’s role in oversight of hazardous chemicals. Eight agencies have some oversight of the plant and its explosion, and they are expected to testify at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The legislative inquiry “isn’t a finger-pointing exercise,” Pickett said, and rightfully so. Hastily assigning blame would risk inaccuracy and undermine the legal process. The victims of the West tragedy deserve justice, which requires a thorough investigation. Certainly, anyone discovered to be responsible for negligence should face significant repercussions, and every effort must be taken to avoid further catastrophes. But the facts must come first.

Although the memorial services for the victims took place last week, the mourning process is far from over. The families who have faced considerable hardship following the explosion deserve compensation for their losses — though, unfortunately, much of it can never be recouped.

Justice doesn’t stop there. Texas should never have to suffer another tragedy like the one in West, and lawmakers have a responsibility to act toward that objective. The Legislature adjourns May 27, but we hope its investigation won’t end prematurely. If more regulation is necessary to keep us safe, then lawmakers must deliver it, no matter how loudly private interests speak out. Once the investigation is complete, inaction would be the worst course of action.

Texas lawmakers must work to prevent similar catastrophes, not just for the safety of all Texans, but out of respect for those who lost their lives tragically and unnecessarily.

President Obama reflects during the video eulogy at the West, Texas memorial service at Baylor University on Thursday afternoon. The memorial service was held in honor of twelve first responders who lost their lives in the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

WACO — President Barack Obama told mourners remembering the 12 first responders killed in the explosion in West last week that the country stands with them as they attempt to restore their town.

“You are not alone. You are not forgotten,” Obama said at Baylor University, about twenty minutes south of the town of West, on Thursday. “We may not all live here in Texas, but we’re neighbors, too. We’re Americans, too. We’ll be there after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere. Your country will remain ever ready to help you recover and rebuild and reclaim your community.”

The explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant killed 15 people — including 12 first responders — injured more than 200 and destroyed 140 homes and several buildings, including a nursing home and two schools.

Twelve flag-draped caskets lay before the stage during the service in Baylor’s basketball arena, each with an accompanying portrait. Before the service, a screen above the stage played a photo montage of the responders set to music, including John Williams’ score to the 1978 movie, “Superman.”

Obama, who joined state and federal officials onstage at the memorial, said the responders — who were volunteers — showed courage and dedication to protecting their neighbors and community.

“The call went out to farmers and car salesmen and welders, funeral home directors, the city secretary and the mayor,” Obama said. “It went out to folks who were tough enough and selfless enough to put in a full day’s work and then be ready for more.”

Video eulogies played during the ceremony with family members and friends telling stories about their loved ones.

Gov. Rick Perry said he could offer no words to ease the pain the community has suffered but said the spirit that drove the first responders lives on.

“First responders know better than anyone there’s no such as a thing as a routine emergency,” Perry said. “The firefighters and medical technicians who died last week in West certainly knew that, but it didn’t slow them down as they raced toward that burning factory.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the responders left a legacy of selflessness and that courage allowed them to face “overwhelming danger on behalf of their community.”

“When the call went out for help, these men — along with countless others in West — ran immediately toward the danger, not away from it,” Cornyn said. “They ran toward it looking for a way they might help. And though they were taken from us in a blast that shook the earth and shattered buildings, nothing will ever shake the memory of their heroism and their bravery.”

First responders from across the state, county and continent gathered in Waco to grieve for the fallen responders whom many emergency personnel said they considered family. Some came from as close as Round Rock and as far away as Calgary, Canada.

Four came from Shreveport, a city in northwest Louisiana. Gloria Wilson, Shreveport Fire Department captain and paramedic, said the department lost a member three years ago during a response to a fire.

Wilson said the grieving process has several steps before acceptance, but everyone grieves in their own way and death is part of the job of being a firefighter.

“As the Bible says, this too shall pass,” Wilson said.

The fire department in Atascocita — a town near Lake Houston in Harris County — lost its captain Sept. 17. Mike Mulligan, Atascocita Fire Department deputy chief, said his department is still grieving but offers its condolences to the West Fire Department.

“They are truly heroes, and I think everyone here would do the same thing,” Mulligan said.

A single mother and several insurance companies are among the first to sue West Fertilizer Co. and its parent company Adair Grain, Inc. for the devastating fertilizer plant explosion in West.

The first two lawsuits filed against the proprietors of the fertilizer plant cite negligence as the cause of the explosion. One of the lawsuits also accuses Adair Grain’s employees of being unqualified and improperly licensed for their jobs at the plant. According to new estimates by the Insurance Council of Texas, the blast destroyed approximately 140 homes, left 15 people dead and up to 200 injured.

Andrea Jones Gutierrez, a single mother who claims she and her son “lost all worldly possessions and suffered physical as well as emotion injuries,” filed a lawsuit Monday.

According to the lawsuit, Gutierrez is asking for between $500,000 and $1 million in monetary relief.

In a statement, Gutierrez’s attorney, Randy C. Roberts, said legal action was required because the owners of Adair Grain have yet to claim responsibility for the explosion.

“[Adair Grain has] done nothing for the victims,” Roberts said. “You can read [Adair Grains’] statement online. I challenge you to find the words ‘I’m sorry.’ They don’t acknowledge any responsibility.”

In his statement, Donald Adair, a “longtime” resident of West who owns Adair Grain, said he is saddened by the tragedy which “will continue to hurt for generations to come.”

“The owners and employees of Adair Grain and West Fertilizer Co. are working closely with investigating agencies,” Adair said. “We pledge to do everything we can to understand what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any community.”

Daniel Kenney, a spokesman for Adair Grain, said the company would not comment on the lawsuits at this time.

The first lawsuit against the fertilizer plant was filed April 19 by a group of insurance companies claiming Adair Grains “was negligent in the operation of its facility, creating an unreasonably dangerous condition, which led to the fire and explosion.”

The four companies – Acadia Insurance Co., Union Standard Lloyds, Continental Western Insurance Co. and Union Standard Insurance Co. – are suing on behalf of residents, churches and local businesses affected by the blast.

Roberts said he knows of two more lawsuits that have been filed since Gutierrez filed her suit on Monday.

“I can understand a fire being the product of natural causes — an explosion that devastates half a town should not happen in the natural course of events,” Roberts said.

President Barack Obama, officials promise recovery from West explosion

WACO — President Barack Obama told mourners to remember the 12 first responders killed in the explosion in West last week that the country stands with them to help restore their town.

“You are not alone, you are not forgotten,” Obama said speaking at Baylor University on Thursday. “We may not all live here in Texas, but we’re neighbors, too. We’re Americans, too. We’ll be there after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere. Your country will remain ever ready to help you recover and rebuild and reclaim your community.”

The explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant killed 14 people — including 12 first responders — injured over 200 and destroyed 142 homes and several buildings, including a nursing home and two schools.

12 flag-draped caskets laid before the stage at a memorial service in Ferrell Center at Baylor University, each with an accompanying portrait. Before the service, a screen above the stage played a photo montage of the responders set to music, including John Williams’ score to the 1978 movie, “Superman.”

Obama, who joined state and federal officials onstage at the memorial, said the volunteer responders showed courage and dedication to protecting their neighbors and community.

“The call went out to farmers and car salesmen and welders, funeral home directors, the city secretary and the mayor,” Obama said. “It went out to folks who were tough enough and selfless enough to put in a full day’s work and then be ready for more.”

Video eulogies played during the ceremony with family members and friends telling stories about their loved ones.

Gov. Rick Perry said he could offer no words to ease the pain the community has suffered but said the spirit that drove the first responders lives on.
“First responders know better than anyone there’s no such as a thing as a routine emergency,” Perry said. “The firefighters and medical technicians who died last week in West certainly knew that, but it didn't slow them down as they raced toward that burning factory.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the responders left a legacy of selflessness and courage that allowed them to face “overwhelming danger on behalf of their community.”

“When the call went out for help, these men — along with countless others in West — ran immediately toward the danger, not away from it,” Cornyn said. “They ran toward it looking for a way they might help. And though they were taken from us in a blast that shook the earth and shattered buildings, nothing will ever shake the memory of their heroism and their bravery.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said last week the Texas Legislature would support West in the aftermath of the explosion, but the region’s representatives said they are waiting for more answers before submitting legislation.

The explosion killed 14 people — including 10 first responders — and injured more than 200 people and demolished several neighboring buildings. Last week, Gov. Rick Perry designated McLennan County, which contains West, a disaster zone.

Speaking at a forum sponsored by The Texas Tribune, Bryan Shaw, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality chairman, said a rail car filled with ammounium nitrate — not an ammonia tank at the plant — may have caused the explosion.

State Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, represents a portion of McLennan County and said he is waiting for state and federal agencies to finish investigating the cause of the explosion before he offers legislation to address the situation in West.

The State Fire Marshall’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are among the several state and federal agencies investigating the cause of the fire and subsequent explosion. 

“My main concern is getting the town of West every asset they need from local authorities, state authorities and federal authorities to help them get some semblance of regular life back as fast as possible,” Kacal said.

The community took a step toward normalcy Monday by allowing
students to continue classes at West Elementary School. The explosion destroyed the city’s intermediate school and damaged the high school located near the plant.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, echoed Kacal’s sentiments in a statement Monday and said he is immediately concerned with assisting local leaders and emergency personnel impacted by the blast.

“Discussions about legislation will come, as necessary, once the appropriate investigations have been completed,” Birdwell said.

Perry told The Associated Press on Monday he does not believe additional oversight of plants such as West Fertilizer Co. would have prevented the explosion.

Two federal agencies will join the numerous state and federal entities investigating the explosion and seeking to help those displaced by it. On Friday, President Barack Obama authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security to provide aid in the region, responding to Perry’s request that the government declare the situation a
federal emergency.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will attend a memorial service in Waco on Thursday for victims of the fertilizer explosion in West, according to The White House. The president was already scheduled to headline a Democratic fundraiser in Dallas on Wednesday and attend the formal opening of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday.

The memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Ferrell Center at Baylor University.