Texas Fire Marshal hopes to find cause of fertilizer plant blast

The remains of a fertilizer plant burn after an explosion at the plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas early April 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone
The remains of a fertilizer plant burn after an explosion at the plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas early April 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone

Investigators hope to determine by next week what caused the explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant that killed 14 people and injured about 200, the state Fire Marshal said at a state legislative hearing on Wednesday.

Dozens of investigators remain on the ground in West, Texas, a town about 20 miles north of Waco, and more are reviewing records, officials told lawmakers who were holding the first of possibly many hearings into the blast two weeks ago.

“We are not expecting to finish the origin-and-cause portion of the investigation probably until about May 10,” Texas State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy told the state House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety.

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

Investigators have ruled out weather such as a lightning strike as a possible cause of the April 17 fire and explosion, two days after the bombings at the Boston Marathon. That leaves three possible rulings: accident, arson or undetermined.

Federal and state officials would be expected to announce their findings when they wrap up the on-site investigation, but a full report may take months to complete, officials said.

Eleven first responders, two apartment complex residents and a man who was rounding up horses were killed in the blast. A 96-year-old nursing home resident died after being evacuated.

Firefighters were called to the fire about 20 minutes before the blast, which registered as a seismic event and caused an estimated $100 million in damage.

Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman said the state does not require fertilizer plants to be insured. The West plant had coverage, but its insurance had “absolutely no relationship to the amount of risk that was involved here,” she said.

Democratic Representative Joe Pickett, chairman of the committee, repeatedly asked officials who ultimately was in charge of making fertilizer plants safe.

Texas lawmakers were told by top officials from several Texas state departments about a confusing array of regulations that cover hazardous materials and facilities like the West Fertilizer plant.

Texas has about 1,100 locations licensed to store ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive ingredient in fertilizer, said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. As of last year, West Fertilizer had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate on hand.

State officials said many state regulations are geared more toward making sure chemicals like ammonium nitrate don’t get into the wrong hands and monitoring the quality of products made from the materials, not assuring their safe storage.

Local fire officials are largely responsible for ensuring materials like ammonium nitrate are stored safely, said W. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Liberal groups have used the explosion to pound Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has stressed limited regulation of business as a centerpiece of his economic development plan.

Phillip Martin, political director of the liberal activist group Progress Texas, said the hearing made clear that the state lacked regulation of industrial plants and dangerous chemicals.

“Governor Perry and the Republican-controlled Legislature should heed the warnings from today’s hearing and pro-actively pursue proper regulations that can mitigate future disasters like West,” Martin said.

(Editing by David Bailey and Andrew Hay)



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

PHOTO: Queen Elizabeth pulls off epic photobomb

The selfie / photobomb has gone viral.

Local

Astoria minivan crash kills 1, injures 6: NYPD

Anthony Boyd, 45, died soon after what investigators believe was some sort of medical emergency as he drove his family through Astoria on Sunday afternoon.

Local

NYC pension funds valued at $160b: Scott Stringer

The five NYC pension funds that thousands of city employees contribute to saw its fifth year in a row of increased returns, up $23 billion from last year.

International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Entertainment

'Kim Kardashian: Hollywood' game easter eggs and cheats

"Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" is the hottest game of the moment. Here are its best easter eggs as well as some tips and tricks to speed your way to the top.

Television

Kacy Catanzaro credits mind over body in "American…

Kacy Catanzaro credits her victory to mental focus and upper body strength.

Entertainment

Q&A: The brains behind 'Kim Kardashian: Hollywood'

"Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" is the hottest game of the moment. We talked with Christopher Locke of Glu Canada to find out more about developing the game.

Movies

The 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' trailer is…

Watch 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' trailer.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Tech

Amazon offers 3D printing to customize earrings, bobble…

By Deepa SeetharamanSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc will offer 3D printing services that allow customers to customize and build earrings, bobble head toys and…

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…