Twelve deaths were confirmed Friday in the aftermath of the catastrophic Wednesday evening explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small town of West, Texas.
"It is with a heavy heart that I can confirm that 12 individuals have been recovered from the fertilizer plant explosion," said Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes on Friday, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports. Five volunteer firefighters are among the dead, according to West Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek, who is also a firefighter, the paper reports.
Waco TV station KWTX reports the death count may grow. Three-quarters of the units in a torched apartment complex and 80 percent of the damaged houses were cleared by Thursday night, according to the State Fire Marshal's Office, KWTX reports.
The reported number of people wounded in the explosion ticked up to more than 200 Friday.
As many as 40 people may be dead, West Mayor Tommy Muska told the Wall Street Journal Thursday.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, the Journal reported, predicts that it may take six months to determine the cause of the explosion. A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told the Journal a team is being sent to determine if the fire was "accidental or criminal."
The explosion happened after firefighters arrived to battle a blaze at the West Fertilizer building that stored ammonium nitrate. Several first responders were missing and feared dead after the blast, which was recorded in vivid photographs and video footage
NBC News reports that despite it's squeaky-clean image, the fertilizer company, West Fertilizer, was fined $2,300 in 2006 by the Environmental Protection Agency after it failed to update a risk management plan.
"The EPA said it had poor employee training records, failed to document hazards and didn't have a written maintenance program," NBC reports. The issues were corrected to the EPA's satisfaction by 2011 and the company was in compliance at the time of the disaster.
The Waco Tribune-Herald reports that one of the town's schools was evacuated in February because of a fire at the plant. The fire "turned out to be a controlled burn of pallets and brush on the property," according to the paper.
Gulf War veteran Paul L. Manigrasso told KWTX he felt the blast at his home far from West. "Based on my naval experience... we knew immediately what it was, but cannot believe it occurred 40 miles away," Manigrasso said.
The blast registered a 2.1 magnitude on the Richter scale, which is typically used to measure earthquakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The Tribune-Herald quoted West resident Walter Reaves Jr. saying he was reading his iPad Wednesday night when he heard "a real loud boom and stuff started flying around the room and the next thing I know my ceiling was on top of me."
The devastating explosion, which is not suspected to be an act of terrorism, happened just two days after the deadly bomb explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Friday is the 20th anniversary of the April 19, 1993 Waco, Texas, fire that killed 76 cult members who were in a standoff with federal ATF agents.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared McLennan County, which is where West is located, a disaster area on Thursday.
"Anyone who grew up in a small town understands that this tragedy will touch every family in West and the surrounding communities in some way," Perry said at a press conference in Austin, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.
Footage of the explosion: