US president helps pay tribute to victims of West Fertilizer blast

25 April 2013 22:47 Source:ICIS News

US president helps pay tribute to victims of West fertilizer blastHOUSTON (ICIS)--Saying their final goodbyes to those who died in the 17 April fire and explosion at West Fertilizer, family and friends were joined on Thursday by state officials and US President Barack Obama at a memorial ceremony for the victims.

With flag-draped coffins lining the front of Baylor University's Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas, those who came together in the solemn yet emotional setting gave praise and gratitude to those who the tiny rural community have dubbed "the fallen heroes".

Eight days ago, a fire which rapidly grew very large at the site of the retail fertilizer distributor resulted in an earth-shaking blast, which resulted in 14 on-site causalities, 200 reported injuries and inflicted catastrophic damages to surrounding homes and businesses in the small central Texas town of West.

Beyond the physical wounds and the scarring of the landscape, many in West have forever had their lives changed with the loss of loved ones and a shattered sense of security.

Emphasizing the fact that many of those who died paid the ultimate price in trying to save others from harm, Texas Governor Rick Perry said that while there is no way for the rest of the America to bring back a sense of normalcy to the community, he said the least the US could do as a country is acknowledge the heroism and bravery exhibited that fateful day.

“Our first responders know they are placing themselves in danger. First responders know better than anyone that there is no such thing as a routine emergency,” said Perry. “Each of the men who lost their lives had stories, each had friends, family, hopes and dreams, but the common thread that bonded them together was community.”

Speaking to the families whose loved ones were killed, and to the residents whose lives where instantly shattered, Obama said the American people are here to help the people of West reclaim their community despite the circumstances they now face.

“No words can describe the courage that was displayed on that deadly night. What I can do is offer the love, support and prayers of the nation,” said Obama. “Know this, that while the eyes of the world may have been fixated elsewhere, our hearts have been here during your times of tribulations.”

Obama said he has been moved by the grace and strong sense of character displayed by the community and that while many may have never heard of West before, residents can be sure that it will never be forgotten.

“We are here to say to you that you are not alone, you are not forgotten. We may not all live in Texas, but we are neighbours, too,” Obama said.

Authorities have yet to pinpoint what caused the fire but have continued to say that there is no indication that it was anything more than an industrial accident.

Members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) National Response Team as well as investigators with the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) have been leading the investigation into the fire and blast.

As of Thursday, authorities had ruled out natural causes such as lightning and a railroad car that was suspected of containing ammonium nitrate as causes of the explosion, which has resulted in an estimated $100m (€77m) in damages to the town of West.

The four ammonia tanks on the property have also been ruled out as a culprit, as fire officials confirmed those storage areas did not rupture during the disaster.

West Fertilizer operated as a distributor, and in addition to mixing dry fertilizer had storage capacities that contained anhydrous ammonia. It was also reported to have storage of ammonia nitrate, which can be a volatile substance especially if exposed to combustion.

In 2012, West Fertilizer filed a disclosure with the Texas Department of Health that declared that volatile chemicals, along with 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, were stored on the property.

According to federal regulations, that was 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that the company should have possessed on site and would normally have led to an immediate safety review by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The company was required to tell DHS officials, as they are the ones who regulate ammonium nitrate.

Those killed in the 17 April explosion were:

  • Morris Bridges, 41, West: Fire sprinkler technician and volunteer fire-fighter
  • Perry Calvin, 37, Navarro Mills: Fire academy student and volunteer fire-fighter
  • Jerry Dave Chapman, 26, Abbott: Volunteer fire-fighter
  • Cody Dragoo, 50, West: West Fertilizer foreman and volunteer fire-fighter
  • Kenneth Harris, Jr., 52, Dallas: Dallas Fire Department captain
  • Jimmy Matus, 52, West: Westex Welding owner and volunteer fire-fighter
  • Judith Ann Monroe, 65, West: Retiree
  • Joey Pustejovsky, 29, West: West city secretary and volunteer fire-fighter
  • Cyrus Reed, 29, Abbott: Plant worker and volunteer fire-fighter
  • Mariano C. Saldivar, 57, West: Retiree
  • Kevin Sanders, 33, West: Emergency medical technician
  • Robert Snokhous, 48, West: Project manager and volunteer fire-fighter
  • Doug Snokhous, 50, West: Shop supervisor and volunteer fire-fighter
  • William Uptmor, 45, Abbott: Business owner


($1 = €0.77)

By Mark Milam