Authorities have confirmed that 11 firefighters and medics were killed last night in the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas – though at least three more people are feared dead as rescuers search the rubble for bodies.
The State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas said in a statement on Thursday that six firefighters, four paramedics and one other first responder died Wednesday night as they battled a blaze the West Fertilizer Company.
‘We were all volunteers. There was not one person that got paid to be there. Not one person that was ordered to go there,’ Brice Reed, an EMT with the West Volunteer Fire Department, told CNN. Reed also rushed into the blast zone, but survived and was visibly shaken as he spoke.
Rescuers expect to find 14 bodies in the the rubble of the plant and the wreckage of 50 to 75 homes that were destroyed in the explosion, Mayor Tommy Muska said.
Muska says there is ‘no sign of life’ left in five-block radius that was flattened by the blast. A 50-unit apartment building was gutted. A middle school and a nursing home with 133 elderly patients nearby were both destroyed by fire.
A fire captain from Dallas who lived in West and rushed to help his neighbors is confirmed dead.
The volunteers were battling a fire at the plant last night when a tank of anhydrous ammonia – the same substance that fueled the 1995 Oklahoma City bombs – exploded with such force that it was felt 50 miles away and registered as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake.
Several volunteer firefighters from other departments were in West for a training class when the fire at the fertilizer plant broke out and they heroically rushed to the scene, as well.
Six families have said publicly that they are missing loved ones, also. At least 179 people were injured in the explosion, 13 seriously.
As the dust settled on the small community of 2,800 people on Thursday morning, photographs revealed destroyed homes and debris-strewn roads in a four- or five-block radius around a massive charred crater where the plant once stood.
Later, Muska, who is himself a volunteer firefighter and was heading to the fertilizer plant when the blast occurred told the Dallas Morning News http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20130417-dallas-fire-rescue-captain-among-8-to-10-people-confirmed-dead-in-west-explosion.ece that the death toll might be lower – 14 to 16, which he described as a ‘relief.’
Early reports put the death toll as high at 70. Muska had previously said up to 40 were missing and feared dead.
The only person confirmed killed thus far was Kenny ‘Luckey’ Harris, a 52-year-old captain in the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department who lived in West and ran to the fertilizer plant to help his neighbors put out the blaze.