WEST, Texas — Some residents of West, Texas were allowed to return to their homes starting at 3 p.m. Saturday after delays caused by concerns that chemicals at the West Fertilizer plant might still pose a threat.
"Everything is safe, safe and safe," Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek said at a mid-afternoon news conference.
Vanek said Saturday night that search and rescue teams did not find any additional victims in the ruins of Wednesday's massive explosion that killed 14 people and left more than 200 others injured.
But West residents whose homes are closest to the site of Wednesday's powerful blast are not yet cleared to go in.
Officials did not address reasons for multiple delays on Saturday, nor did they discuss concerns about any lingering hazards at the blast site.
Law enforcement issued a warning earlier Saturday after tanks began leaking gas, causing small fires.
The fires were being contained, but a source said federal authorities want to make certain there is no chance for another explosion.
"The site is safe," said Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner at a Saturday evening news briefing. "There are no safety concerns out on the site."
He said, however, that officials would begin removing some chemical storage tanks from the fertilizer plant property on Saturday night so the investigation into the cause can continue.
"We have to figure out where the fire started, what caused the fire," Kistner said, adding there is no indication yet of any criminal activity.
Kistner also said Union Pacific would begin repairs on the damaged rail line adjacent to the plant on Sunday morning.
A town hall meeting for residents on Saturday afternoon started with a prayer for the city and those who were killed and injured in Wednesday's blast.
Officials at the meeting conceded they had failed to communicate clearly with citizens of the town of 2,800.
"This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint," cautioned Mayor Tommy Muska. "We need to stay strong; we need to bury our dead. It's going to be a long haul."
Some residents express concern about the security of their property in the blast zone. Mayor Muska assured them that police will be on patrol through the day and night.
Vanek said residents who live between Oak Street and Walnut Street would be permitted to return in what he called Stage 1 of the reentry process.
Vanek said there are a number of stipulations:
- a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. curfew will be enforced
- residents can remain in their homes at their own risk between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., but will not be permitted to go outside during those hours
- no vehicle larger than a pickup truck will be allowed in the impacted area
- no more than two vehicles are permitted per residential address
- the Texas Department of Public Safety will assign a reentry number to each vehicle
- only residents 18 years or older are permitted to enter the blast zone
Vanek said the access point for residents would be at the corner of Reagan Street and Tokio Street faicng south starting at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The mayor pro tem said there would be a town meeting at the Knights of Columbus Hall in West at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Earlier on Saturday, city officials close to the blast site were told to move away from the area.
Paramedic Bryce Reed said the leaks on Saturday were caused by tanks damaged by heat and had triggered small fires. He said no further evacuations were necessary.
Workers were placing heavy concrete barriers across streets leading into damaged neighborhoods in West on Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.