WEST, Texas (AP) — The neighborhood surrounding a Texas fertilizer plant that erupted in a thunderous explosion is gone, and the residents here know they've lost more than the buildings that went up in flames.
Even as investigators were tight-lipped about the number of dead from the blast — authorities say more than 160 are injured but have not yet released a firm death toll — the names of the dead were becoming known in the town of 2,800, even if they hadn't been officially released.
Believed to be among them is a small group of firefighters and other first responders who may have rushed toward the fire to fight it before the blast. At a church service at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church on Thursday night, the mourning was already starting.
"We know everyone that was there first, in the beginning," said Christina Rodarte, 46, who has lived in West for 27 years. "There's no words for it. It is a small community, and everyone knows the first responders, because anytime there's anything going on, the fire department is right there, all volunteer."
One victim who Rodarte knew and whose name was released was Kenny Harris, a 52-year-old captain in the Dallas Fire Department who lived south of West. He was off duty at the time but responded to the fire to help, according to a statement from the city of Dallas.
Authorities spent much of the day after Wednesday night's blast searching the town for survivors. It was not clear why they were having trouble tallying an official death toll. At one point, they said they believed five to 15 people were among the dead, but later backed off giving any firm estimate. Three to five volunteer firefighters were believed to have perished.