"Word gets around quick in a small town," said Covey, who spent her whole life living in and around West.
Firefighter Darryl Hall, from Thorndale, which is about 50 miles away from West, was one of the rescue workers who was going from house to house and checking to see if anybody might have been inside.
"People's lives are devastated here. It's hard to imagine," Hall said.
The Wednesday night blast was apparently touched off by a fire, but it remained unclear what sparked the blaze. A team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives still had not been able to begin investigating the scene because it remained unsafe, agency spokeswoman Franceska Perot said.
The West Fertilizer Co. facility stores and distributes anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer that can be directly injected into soil, and a blender and mixer of other fertilizers.
Records reviewed by The Associated Press show the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration fined West Fertilizer $10,000 last summer for safety violations that included planning to transport anhydrous ammonia without a security plan. An inspector also found the plant's ammonia tanks weren't properly labeled.
The government accepted $5,250 after the company took what it described as corrective actions, the records show. It is not unusual for companies to negotiate lower fines with regulators.
In a risk-management plan filed with the Environmental Protection Agency about a year earlier, the company said it was not handling flammable materials and did not have sprinklers, water-deluge systems, blast walls, fire walls or other safety mechanisms in place at the plant.
State officials require all facilities that handle anhydrous ammonia to have sprinklers and other safety measures because it is a flammable substance, according to Mike Wilson, head of air permitting for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.