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

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Sports

2014 Boston Marathon preview: Elite American, International runners…

2014 Boston Marathon: Elite American, International runners to watch

NBA

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams…

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams have the best shot at a championship. The Thunder, Clippers, Heat and Rockets lead the way.

NFL

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.