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As Texas Search Winds Down, Investigation Continues


We're going to touch briefly now on another dramatic story, the deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small Texas town of West. Authorities now confirm that the death toll has risen to 12. That's how many bodies have been recovered so far. The cause of the fire and subsequent blast on Wednesday night are still unknown. From West, here's NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: A couple of hours after the massive explosion, the first reports of casualties were stunning, 60 to 70 dead. Later, local officials estimated 100 killed. Those reports turned out to be official speculation, wrong official speculation. Since then, law enforcement clammed up until it was sure about what it knew.

JASON REYES: It's with a heavy heart that I can confirm 12 individuals have been recovered from the fertilizer plant explosion. I don't know and I cannot confirm how many of those were first responders.

GOODWYN: Texas DPS Sergeant Jason Reyes relayed the sad news. The state firemen's and fire marshals' association added to the picture, saying five volunteer firemen from West died on Wednesday. In addition, one firefighter from Dallas, a captain who was visiting, rushed to the scene and was also killed. Another retired firefighter and four EMS responders rounded out the tragic toll who died in the line of duty.

Then, at the end of the noon press conference today, Texas Senator John Cornyn dropped a bit of information that sounded like a bombshell.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: As I said, there's still about 60 people unaccounted for and we need to make sure that everybody who can be accounted for is properly taken care of.

GOODWYN: But that's a number which will likely come down as unaccounted for families and individuals are tracked down to hotel rooms and friends' or neighbors' homes. There's been no indication as the search has progressed that the blast killed dozens whose bodies have not yet been found. Finally, tragedy can sometimes make for strange bedfellows. You probably can't find U.S. senators who are further apart on the political spectrum than those from Texas and Massachusetts.

But Ted Cruz says he and Elizabeth Warren discovered recently they have something in common, their humanity.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: You know, I have to say, yesterday, I visited my colleague Senator Elizabeth Warren and it was striking how similar her sentiments were, that in the midst of tragedy and suffering, there was story after story of inspirational heroism.

GOODWYN: The search will likely wrap up by the end of the day. For the town of West, its long journey of recovery and healing can now begin. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, in the town of West, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn
Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.