Texas explosion: Probe of blast likened to ‘archaeological dig’

Dee Davlin cries after seeing her house, which was heavily damaged by the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Authorities said the investigation into the cause of the blast could be lengthy.
(Jay Janner / Associated Press)

WEST, Texas — Authorities told residents here Monday to expect a “slow, methodical” investigation into the explosion at a fertilizer plant last week that killed 14 people and injured scores more, as the town continues to take stock of the damage, mourn the dead and prepare for a memorial service later this week.

At the explosion site, located on the outskirts of West, investigators are looking for clues as to what started the fire and the explosion that ravaged a large swath of West. Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kirstner told reporters Monday that there was “no indication” of how long the investigation would take, saying the probe was “like an archaeological dig.”

“We’re basically four days into the investigation, and we’re going to be here a long time,” he said, declining to speculate on the range of possible causes.


PHOTOS: Fertilizer plant explosion

City officials cautioned that the return of basic services in the cordoned-off areas of West would take at least a week, affecting some 350 houses, Steve Vanek, West’s mayor pro tem, said in the news conference.

Vanek said there was limited electricity and natural gas, and that it could take as long as three weeks before water is restored. In the rest of the town, residents have been advised to boil their water.

“We will stand by you, and be with you until the last nail is driven,” Vanek said.

The blast had sent dozens of injured people to hospitals in Waco, 20 miles south, and many of those treated have since been released.

At one hospital, Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, officials said in a statement Monday that of the 28 patients admitted, 21 have since been discharged. Three of the five patients admitted to intensive-care units have been transferred to general care, and two pediatric trauma patients have been transferred to a children’s hospital in nearby Temple.

More than 50 patients who received emergency care immediately after the explosion were treated and released.


At Providence Health Center, another Waco hospital, only one of the 21 patients admitted is still in the hospital, according to a statement from Providence officials. The hospital said it treated 87 victims who arrived with various injuries, including burns, broken bones, lacerations, head injuries and respiratory distress.

The community plans on mourning those who didn’t survive, including 10 of the first responders at the scene, in the coming days. A memorial service — at a 10,000-seat arena on the campus of nearby Baylor University — is planned for Thursday, and organizers expect a full house.

The services are being organized by the Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force, which, on Sunday, had its family liaisons reading statements from the families of four of those killed: brothers Douglas and Robert Snokhous, volunteer firefighters with the West department; Jerry Chapman of the nearby Abbott, Texas, fire department, and Kevin Sanders, a West EMS worker.

In the statements, they recalled their loved ones’ commitment to public service and to family.

“Jerry died a hero and a protector because of his higher calling,” said representative for Chapman’s family, Steve Athey, of the Denton Fire Department.

His parents — Dane and Rhonda Chapman — stood behind him as he read the statement, tightly holding each other’s hands and closing their eyes.


On Monday, Louise Mills sat on the stoop of City Hall, exhausted, physically and emotionally. Her brother, Morris Bridges, a volunteer fireman, died in the explosion at the plant just down the street from his home.

Bridges, 41, was married with two sons and a daughter.

“I don’t know what the hell he was thinking,” she said of his decision to join the department, about three years ago. “He loved his badge and his little spotlight. He wore it proud, he sure wore it proud.”

Mills said she retired as a truck driver six months ago after being diagnosed with cancer, and her mother died shortly before that. She hasn’t been sleeping. She can’t sleep. “When I close my eyes,” she said, “I just see him.”