WEST, TX (RNN) - President Barack Obama has issued an emergency declaration for West, TX, where a fertilizer plant explosion killed about 35 people and injured more than 160 others.
"I've pledged that the people of West will have the resources they need to rebuild," the president, speaking from the White House said Friday.
The declaration gives FEMA the authority to "identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding."
Law enforcement officials said 14 bodies have been recovered after the Texas fertilizer plant explosion on Wednesday. Officials will continue to search through the debris. Residents will not be able to return home until they are finished.
West police Chief James Lawhorn said five of the dead were West volunteer firefighters and four were EMS personnel, during a Friday press conference.
About 60 people were unaccounted for after the explosion, but McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said late Friday that most if not all of them have or will be located.
"I would be surprised if it's more than a few people (who are missing)," Felton said.
Twelve individuals were recovered from the fertilizer plant explosion Friday morning. Two more were found Friday afternoon.
"The deceased have been taken to the Dallas Forensic Lab for proper identification," Sgt. Jason Reyes said.
Reyes said the fire and blast injured 200 people and 50 homes have been destroyed.
"I just toured the site, both from the air and from the ground. And, frankly, the observation along the area around the site is just total devastation," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said.
A four block radius around the fertilizer plant is almost completely leveled.
Three fire trucks and one ambulance were also destroyed in the blast.
The bodies were found in and around the plant area. Officials will not confirm if the bodies recovered are fire fighters, emergency workers, plant workers or regular citizens.
About half the population in the town was evacuated, including a nursing home with more than 130 residents.
Search and rescue crews sifted through the still-smoldering remains for survivors throughout the day Friday.
"At this point they are in the continuation mode of search and rescue, which to me means that they are still going out and looking for survivors of the blast from Wednesday evening," Sgt. Patrick Swanton said.
Investigators said there is nothing so far to suggest anything other than an accident, but they can't rule anything out.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is working to try to determine the cause of the blast.
The ATF is scouring the site along with the state fire marshal's office.
As investigators move inward in examining debris and damage, residents gradually will be allowed to return Friday to homes along streets that have already been examined.
A dozen investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board were also inspecting the site Friday.
"The explosion happened in a highly populated neighborhood, it is a volatile situation because it being a fertilizer company, it has the component ammonia nitrate which is a volatile product," McLennan County Chief Deputy Sheriff Matt Cawthon said.
U.S. Senator John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Roger Williams, R-Weatherford were in West Friday afternoon to offer support to residents.
Cornyn said they viewed the tangled wreckage of one of the fire trucks destroyed in the explosion.
"In this close community, I grieve with the injured, and the family and friends who have lost loved ones," Cornyn said.
"After seeing the site first-hand, I know the road to recovery will be long, but I am encouraged by the many examples I have already seen of this town's resilience," he said.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Thursday "it's way premature" to determine whether any criminal charges could be sought in relation to the deadly explosion.
Gov. Rick Perry declared McLennan County a disaster area during a news conference.
A litany of state and some federal agencies are helping the town of West, according to Perry. Everyone from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Texas Department of Transportation are helping the town of 2,600.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the force of the explosion through the air was greater than a 2.1 earthquake.
The fire call came in at 7:29 p.m. CDT, Swanton said. The explosion was reported at 7:53 p.m.
"On my way in I saw homes that were burning, homes that had significant devastation, bricks were torn off," Swanton said. "It was almost tornadic in effect."
A YouTube video has surfaced of a man recording the explosion moments before it occurs. The video may be disturbing for some.
As the events unfolded, people in the area went online to report what was happening. One man posted a photo on Instagram of a giant black cloud that resulted from the explosion.
Kristen Crow, a reporter for the Tribune-Herald tweeted a photo of a triage on a football field. The field was later evacuated and the triage relocated.
The fire is under control, but continued to smolder Friday. Another factor in the disaster is the potential for toxic fumes.
The plant contains anhydrous ammonia used in the production of fertilizer, the fumes of which are dangerous to breathe.
The West Fertilizer Co. said it had 54,000 pounds of the chemical, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Because of the risk of poison, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality personnel said they are posted within a quarter-mile of the facility at the request of emergency personnel for safety reasons.
The Associated Press reports West Fertilizer was investigated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2006 after receiving a complaint of a small ammonia smell.
The town of West has a population of around 3,000 people. It is approximately 19 miles north of Waco, the city where cult leader David Koresh led a 50-day standoff against the FBI that ended in death on April 19, 1993.
Two years after Waco, on April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City was destroyed with a bomb that used fertilizer, killing 168.
And in what could be a tragic coincidence, Tuesday's disaster occurred the day after the anniversary of a similar fertilizer explosion in Texas City, TX, which took place on April 16, 1947.
The official death toll of that explosion was 581, making it the deadliest industrial accident in American history.
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