May 16, 2013

Crime not ruled out in Texas fertilizer plant blast

The cause of the fire that killed 15 people and destroyed part of a town is undetermined, but investigators have narrowed down the possibilities.

The Associated Press

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Shona Jupe, a resident of an apartment destroyed by the fertilizer plant explosion, hugs a friend while visiting the site in West, Texas, on May 10. Jupe was at the front door when the West Fertilizer Co. explosion happened.

The Associated Press / The Dallas Morning News / Kye R. Lee

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical used as a fertilizer that also can be used as a cheap alternative to dynamite. It was the chemical used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Dozens of investigators from the ATF and State Fire Marshal's Office could be seen combing through debris at the site during their investigation. At one point, they collected anything possibly of use on several blue tarps nicknamed "boneyards."

ATF committed the equivalent of two national response teams to the investigation and spent more than $1 million, according to spokeswoman Franceska Perot.

Daniel Keeney, a spokesman for Adair Grain Co., which owned and operated West Fertilizer, has said the company is cooperating with authorities.

Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office, said the death toll had officially reached 15 with the determination by a local justice of the peace that an elderly man who died after being evacuated from the nursing home had been an explosion-related death. The nursing home's medical director previously had said the man died of his pre-existing ailments.

Officials on Thursday notified local and state officials as well as family members of victims and residents in West, where crews have started to clear destroyed homes and federal aid has started to flow to help with the rebuilding effort.

"It may help a little bit," West Mayor Tommy Muska said of Thursday's announcement. "But you know, the closure's going to come when we move forward, when we get people back in their houses, and we get people away from their mothers' and their kids' houses and back in their own homes. That's going to be closure."

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