An aerial view of the explosion site in West, Texas (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WEST, Texas—Residents displaced by a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant here will be allowed to return to their homes for the first time since Wednesday’s blast.
Steve Vanek, a West City Council member, announced residents will be escorted to their homes within the five-block blast site beginning Saturday but will only be allowed into the area between 7am and 7pm daily.
The decision came just hours after fears of another explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant site, where officials say leaking gas tanks damaged by Wednesday’s blast have been fueling small fires at the site.
On Saturday morning, local residents living just outside the perimeter of the five-block area closed off since Wednesday explosion reported that police asked them to clear back. Investigators combing the ruins as part of the search and recovery process were pulled away from the site for a brief time, the West Mayor’s office confirmed.
Ron Price, who had been trying to access the site to check on the fate of his son’s home, told the Associated Press that state troops “came flying down the road” and yelled at people to get back.
"It was pretty scary everybody just jumped and took off running," Price told the AP. "They jumped in their cars and we all started heading back."
Workers were allowed to return to the site a short time later, but officials remained concerned about the volatility of the area around the destroyed plant.
In an early evening press conference, Kelly Kistner, an assistant state fire marshal, said the state would begin to remove the remaining tanks from the site starting late Saturday night as officials continue to investigate the cause of the fire and subsequent explosion.
"We still don't know when the fire started, how the fire started or where the fire started," Kistner said. "Those are all things we are trying to determine."
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is overseeing recovery at the site, said Saturday that the death toll from Wednesday’s blast remains at 14.
- Disasters & Accidents