WEST, Texas—Investigators recovered two more bodies from the site of a massive fertilizer plant explosion on Friday, bringing the official death toll of Wednesday’s blast to 14 people.
At the same time, Mayor Tommy Muska discounted Sen. John Cornyn’s declaration earlier Friday that at least 60 residents remain unaccounted for after the blast. Speaking at a press conference with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Muska and other local officials described that number as an “informal” list largely compiled of reports by out-of-town relatives who haven’t yet made contact with relatives displaced by the blast.
“There are people who do not have a home,” Muska said. “They are living either in a hotel, they are living with Mama down the road (or) with their brother. The cousin from Dallas doesn’t know that. If they have a land line and they don’t have a cell phone, you’re not going to know where those people are.”
McLennen County Judge Scott Felton said the city was hopeful it would be able to “eliminate 99 percent” of the people on the missing persons list. He added that it's possible that nobody is missing.
The press conference came after Perry made his first visit to the site, touring it first by air and then on the ground. The blast leveled a five-square block area of the city, damaging more than 150 structures including dozens of houses, a nursing home and a public school.
Perry said he found the debris just “stunning” and offered his condolences to the many first responders who were killed in the blast. At least 11 of those killed in the blast were said to be members of West’s volunteer fire department. Muska said one of the victims was a close friend who served as “my city secretary.” While he didn’t name him, he said one of the man’s duties was controlling the city’s official Facebook page and that they hadn’t been able to update it without him.
“I talked to him everyday,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “And now he’s not here.”
Perry announced that investigators had just one more building to examine before the search and rescue process is complete. Asked if they believe the number of dead will remain at 14, Perry and others at the news conference declined to comment.
Officials said they have not yet talked to the owner of the plant, but Perry said he supports an investigation into what happened to make sure an explosion like this does not happen again.