Searches continued early Friday morning, and authorities may release more information about the death toll later in the day, said Texas State Trooper D.L. Wilson. "Hopefully," he said.
Even without a full picture of the loss of life, what was becoming clear was that the town's landscape was going to be changed forever by the four-to-five block radius leveled by the blast. An apartment complex was badly shattered, a school set ablaze, and as many as 80 homes were seriously damaged.
Residents were still being kept out of a large swath of West, where search and rescue teams continued to pick through the rubble. Some with permission made forays closer to the destruction and came back stunned, and it was possible that some residents would be let closer to their homes on Friday, emergency workers said.
Garage doors were ripped off homes. Fans hung askew from twisted porches. At West Intermediate School, which was close to the blast site, all of the building's windows were blown out, as well as the cafeteria.
"I had an expectation of what I would see, but what I saw went beyond my expectations in a bad way," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott after his visit. "It is very disturbing to see the site."
McLennan County Sheriff Matt Cawthon said the area surrounding the destroyed fertilizer plant is a highly populated neighborhood. He described it as "devastated" and "still very volatile." Ammonium nitrate — commonly used as fertilizer — was found at the scene, but he didn't know if any of the chemical remained.
Fifteen years ago, Brenda Covey, 46, lived in that now leveled apartment complex across the street from the plant.
On Thursday, she learned that two men she knew, both volunteer firefighters, had perished. Word of one came from her landlord because they live in the same complex in nearby Hillsboro. The other was the best man at her nephew's wedding.