WEST, Texas -- The bodies of 12 people have been recovered from the remnants of a tiny Texas farm town that was rocked by a roaring explosion at a fertilizer plant, authorities said Friday, confirming for the first time the number of people who perished in the accident.
Officials did not identify those killed, but the dead were believed to include a small group of firefighters and other first-responders who rushed toward the West Fertilizer Co. to battle a fire that apparently touched off the blast.
Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes said he could not confirm how many first-responders had been killed. Efforts to search the devastated buildings were continuing, he added.
The Wednesday evening explosion was strong enough to register as a small earthquake and could be heard for many miles across the Texas prairie. It demolished nearly everything for several blocks around the plant. More than 200 people were hurt.
Even before investigators disclosed the fatalities, the names of the dead were becoming known throughout the community of 2,800. Townspeople gathered late Thursday for a service at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church.
"We don't know what to think,'' the Rev. Ed Karasek told those gathered at the service. "Our town of West will never be the same, but we will persevere.''
Christina Rodarte, who has lived in West for 27 years, said "everyone knows the first-responders, because anytime there's anything going on, the fire department is right there, all volunteer.''
The only fatality who has been publicly identified was Kenny Harris, a 52-year-old captain in the Dallas Fire Department who lived south of West. He was off-duty at the time but responded to the fire to help, according to a statement from the city of Dallas.
Brenda Covey once lived in the now-leveled apartment complex across the street from the plant.
On Thursday, she learned that two men she knew were dead, both of them volunteer firefighters. One had been the best man at her nephew's wedding.
"Word gets around quick in a small town,'' said Covey, who has lived all her life in and around West.
Firefighter Darryl Hall, from Thorndale, about 50 miles away from West, was one of the rescue workers helping with the house-to-house search.