Texas legislators await answers in West explosion

Joshua Fechter

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said last week the Texas Legislature would support West in the aftermath of the explosion, but the region’s representatives said they are waiting for more answers before submitting legislation.

The explosion killed 14 people — including 10 first responders — and injured more than 200 people and demolished several neighboring buildings. Last week, Gov. Rick Perry designated McLennan County, which contains West, a disaster zone.

Speaking at a forum sponsored by The Texas Tribune, Bryan Shaw, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality chairman, said a rail car filled with ammounium nitrate — not an ammonia tank at the plant — may have caused the explosion.

State Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, represents a portion of McLennan County and said he is waiting for state and federal agencies to finish investigating the cause of the explosion before he offers legislation to address the situation in West.

The State Fire Marshall’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are among the several state and federal agencies investigating the cause of the fire and subsequent explosion. 

“My main concern is getting the town of West every asset they need from local authorities, state authorities and federal authorities to help them get some semblance of regular life back as fast as possible,” Kacal said.

The community took a step toward normalcy Monday by allowing
students to continue classes at West Elementary School. The explosion destroyed the city’s intermediate school and damaged the high school located near the plant.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, echoed Kacal’s sentiments in a statement Monday and said he is immediately concerned with assisting local leaders and emergency personnel impacted by the blast.

“Discussions about legislation will come, as necessary, once the appropriate investigations have been completed,” Birdwell said.

Perry told The Associated Press on Monday he does not believe additional oversight of plants such as West Fertilizer Co. would have prevented the explosion.

Two federal agencies will join the numerous state and federal entities investigating the explosion and seeking to help those displaced by it. On Friday, President Barack Obama authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security to provide aid in the region, responding to Perry’s request that the government declare the situation a
federal emergency.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will attend a memorial service in Waco on Thursday for victims of the fertilizer explosion in West, according to The White House. The president was already scheduled to headline a Democratic fundraiser in Dallas on Wednesday and attend the formal opening of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday.

The memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Ferrell Center at Baylor University.