West Plant Explosion

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

The Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office says the deaths of 12 people responding to last year’s explosion at the West Fertilizer plant could have been prevented.

The Fire Marshal’s report [PDF] released Thursday night says the first responders killed in the April 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West,Texas  were not prepared or equipped to deal with such a dangerous situation.

The report says that is not because the first responders failed to perform their duties as they had been trained, but due to a “systemic deficiency in the training and preparation” of the firefighters.

Reuters /Mike Stone /Landov

From StateImpact Texas:

A year after a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas, a federal agency is releasing a report saying the disaster was preventable.

The Chemical Safety Board, which investigates chemical accidents and issues recommendations to ensure public safety, is presenting its preliminary findings tonight in the town of West, Texas, where the fire and subsequent explosion last year took 15 lives, injured hundreds, and destroyed homes and schools.

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

It’s been one year since a fertilizer plant exploded in the town of West, Texas – just north of Waco.
15 people were killed and more than 150 were injured. Dozens of buildings were also destroyed in the blast.

A year later there are many signs of recovery and rebuilding in the small town.
But, for some, the rebuilding process has been difficult.

West resident Loretta Volcik says overall, the past year has been filled with one thing: Questioning.

A year ago today, a deadly blast tore through the small community of West, Texas, killing 15 people and injuring hundreds. Homes and schools were destroyed.

The explosion at the West fertilizer plant was one of the worst industrial accidents in Texas history. So what’s being done to prevent it from happening again?

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Terrence Henry of KUT reports that the response has been a slow one.

What's Been Done to Prevent Another West?

Apr 17, 2014
Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

WBUR's "Here and Now" aired this story today. See more here.

From StateImpact Texas: 

WEST, TX - Trucks and bulldozers are still working here, the site of an explosion a year ago today. A deadly blast tore through this small community, killing fifteen and injuring hundreds. Homes and schools were destroyed, with the damage estimated to be over a hundred million dollars. 

There's a lone charred tree that still stands at the location of the blast, but other than that, the site is mostly empty. Crosses and memorials that read "West Strong" and "West is the Best" line the road.

The explosion at the West fertilizer plant was one of the worst industrial disasters in Texas history. So what's Texas doing to prevent it from happening again?

"Well, technically, nothing has been done," says state Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), chair of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. Pickett says since West happened near the end of the legislative session, he didn't want to rush in any "knee-jerk" rules or regulations.

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

The Texas town of West is getting $4.85 million more to help recover from the fertilizer plant explosion that happened one year ago this week. Fifteen people were killed and hundreds injured in the blast on April 17, 2013. 

Governor Perry authorized the funding a day before a ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the disaster. West Mayor Tommy Muska didn't question the timing of the grant.

"It shows a lot of cooperation between local, state and federal that we can come together and secure these funds within one day of the anniversary and move forward," Muska told KUT. 

AP archival photo

April 17 marks exactly a year since one of the biggest industrial disasters in American history: the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas that left 15 people dead, more than 150 injured, and large parts of the town flattened and destroyed.

Shocking as it was, the West explosion is not the worst industrial disaster in American history. That anniversary is today, April 16 – marking 67 years since the Gulf Coast town of Texas City was razed.  

When firetrucks blew through the small town of West, Texas, on the evening of April 17, 2013, sirens screaming, naturally everybody was curious. People got in their cars and went to see the fire at the West fertilizer plant. For 10 minutes, they watched from cars and backyards as the fire grew ever bigger. A few moved as close as they could because they were filming on their smartphones. At no time did it occur to anybody that they might be in danger.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The government shutdown has halted the federal investigation into the West Fertilizer Plant explosion. The explosion in April killed 15 people and injured hundreds of others.

“Some of the brightest scientists in the world are home today rather than doing their work to protect, and give us information so that we can have the right rules and regulations to protect our environment,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, said during a press conference yesterday. “The monitoring and enforcement is not being done as it should be done.” Cardin chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife.

The ranks of furloughed workers includes most employees on the Chemical Safety Board, which investigates industrial accidents such as the West Fertilizer Plant explosion.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Residents of the town of West, Texas came out over the weekend to enjoy their annual Labor Day festival – Westfest. With plenty of beer, sausage, polka music and rides, it’s a celebration of the town’s Czech heritage. 

Students are heading back to school in West, Texas today. Many of them will be going back to temporary classrooms. That’s because April’s deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant destroyed most of the city’s public schools, along with hundreds of homes.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

It looks like a denial of federal aid to West, Texas will be overturned.

This morning, Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement saying West – the site of a devastating fertilizer plant explosion that claimed 15 lives and flattened entire city blocks – would benefit from a Major Disaster Declaration.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Federal emergency officials have approved a $2.9 million grant for temporary structures to house students in schools devastated by the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. 

The blast on April 17 killed 15 people and injured dozens others. 

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

A U.S. Senator who oversees environmental regulation is urging state governors to increase safety standards for the storage of ammonium nitrate in the wake of the explosion in West.  Fifteen people were killed in April when a fertilizer plant exploded in the town just north of Waco.

California Democrat Barbara Boxer chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“If there’s even one more tragic death from improper storage of ammonium nitrate, we’ll have lost this opportunity. We have the information. The information is power. And the people who have power need to do something about this," Boxer said during a news conference Tuesday. 

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

April’s fertilizer plant explosion left three of the four schools in the town of West, Texas destroyed or irreparably damaged, with the intermediate school completely flattened by the blast.

But, when school starts in August, the district says students won't have to be bused to other districts.

facebook.com/TexasAttorneyGeneral

Today is the deadline for people in West to apply for federal assistance.

It’s been nearly eight weeks since the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people and destroyed around 150 homes. So far, FEMA has registered 789 survivors and allocated $7.6 million to assist in the recovery.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is refusing to provide money to help rebuild the town of West after April’s deadly fertilizer plant explosion.

FEMA has approved more than $7 million in aid and loans to West residents impacted by the blast, but has denied assistance for things like crisis counseling, legal services, and unemployment assistance.  

http://facebook.com/pages/Texas-State-Fire-Marshal

The head of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) says other government agencies are getting in the way of its investigation into the fertilizer plant explosion in West.

In a letter to U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives blocked CSB investigators from accessing the site for a month, and "altered or removed almost all relevant physical evidence from the site."

Texas Education Agency

Students across Texas helped raise $11,367 to the American Red Cross  West, Texas Relief Fund.

How'd they do it? By solving math problems. 

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

State and federal fire officials say it’s still unclear what caused a fire that led to the explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West. The investigation will remain open. Despite many unknowns, residents are trying to move forward.

On North Reagan Street, the only sounds you hear are screeching grackles and the occasional resident returning to what’s left of his or her home.  Nearly every house on this street is destroyed. Windows and doors are blown out. Roofs caved in. Broken furniture is scattered across lawns. There is a stench in the air that originates from a fly covered refrigerator. Someone has written "Do Not Open, Spoiled Meat" on the front.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

State Fire Marshal's Office and ATF officials Thursday will announce the final results of their investigation into the fertilizer plant explosion in West.

The April 17 explosion killed 15 people and injured hundreds.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Update: The “destructive device” Bryce Reed was said to possess was a pipe bomb.

U.S. District Court charging documents for Bryce Reed state that on May 7, an unnamed person called the Sheriff’s Office regarding components Reed had left with them – components an ATF agent says form a pipe bomb.  You can read the documents here.

Update (11:56 a.m.): StateImpact Texas notes there are now two investigations into the West plant explosion: one existing investigation into the origin and cause of the fire, lead by the State Fire Marshall’s Office office and the ATF; and the new, DPS-helmed investigation into any potential criminal activity, spurred by the arrest of West paramedic Bryce Reed. 

facebook.com/pages/Texas-State-Fire-Marshal

The State Fire Marshal’s Office has determined ammonium nitrate stored at the West Fertilizer Plant is what exploded last month. But investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the fire that led to that explosion.

As KUT News learned in a conversation with UT Austin chemistry professor David Vandenbout:

Mary Helen Leonard at http://www.flickr.com/photos/drstrangeglove/5588916543/

The recovery effort continues in West, where a fertilizer plant explosion killed 15 people last month and destroyed dozens of homes.

KUT News

Two weeks ago, a fire ignited at a fertilizer plant in the small Central Texas town of West, and 20 minutes later, a massive explosion killed 15 people. More than 200 were injured and nearly 150 homes destroyed.

Thursday, Texas lawmakers questioned state agencies that had oversight over the plant, but they didn’t get many answers.

KP Tripathi/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/kptripathi/5953182596/

The United States Senate will hold a hearing into the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) announced Monday. Sen. Boxer chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“I cannot rest until we get to the bottom of what caused the disaster in West, Texas and the tragic loss of life," Sen. Boxer said in a statement. "We must ensure that facilities like the one in West are complying with chemical safety laws. We will look at how the laws on the books are being enforced and whether there is a need to strengthen them."

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Two school buildings in the city of West will have to be demolished because of damage from the deadly fertilizer plant explosion there nearly two weeks ago.

That’s what the Huckabee Architecture Engineering and Management Firm told West School District officials last night.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

As families begin the long rebuilding process in West, Texas,  relief efforts are still in full swing. But while the community of West may no longer need blood or clothes or supplies – for the moment, at least – they still need money. The town incurred an estimated $100 million in damages following the fertilizer plant explosion.

To continue our coverage of ways Austinites can help those in West, here is an updated list of some West charities, events and benefit programs:

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

A memorial service is scheduled today in West for two brothers killed in the fertilizer plant explosion. Douglas and Robert Snokhous were both captains with the West Volunteer Fire Department.

A total of 12 emergency responders died in the blast. Services for some of the others killed are planned for later this week.

President Obama has spoken at two memorial services in just over a week — one for victims of the Boston Marathon attack and one for those who died in the chemical plant explosions in West, Texas. In both speeches, he focused on victims and survivors.

But other Democrats are using these events to talk about another subject: the role of government.

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