West investigation to be completed by May 10

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by FOTI KALLERGIS / KVUE News and Photojournalist KENNETH NULL

kvue.com

Posted on May 1, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Updated Wednesday, May 1 at 5:23 PM

AUSTIN -- State lawmakers have began their inquiry into the explosion of the West Fertilizer Plant in a special hearing Wednesday morning. The investigation into what exactly caused the explosion will take another week.

The Texas Homeland Security and Public Safety Commission called on top officials from several state agencies to testify.

The state fire marshal told them that the on-site investigation into what caused the explosion will be completed on May 10. But he did add that anhydrous ammonia tanks were not the cause of the explosion, neither was a rail car that was close to the plant.

"We are at almost 300 interviews and that has come off of about 160 leads so there is a lot of information that we are looking to gather," Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kishner said. "Despite previous reports the anhydrous ammonia tanks never exploded, they were not compromised."

"I think this is an opportunity for us to understand how this all works, not to point any blame," said Committee Chairman Joseph Pickett. 

Pickett told KVUE the goal of the first hearing is to gain an understanding of what role each agency played in the oversight, regulation, security, inspection, licensing and location of the West plant.

The committee also called on testimony from DPS, the Texas Rangers, the Division of Emergency Management, the Office of the State Chemist and others.

The explosion killed 14 people and injured about 200. Many homes, businesses and schools in the immediate area of the plant were destroyed. Preliminary damage estimates are about $100 million.

Right now about 80 investigators from 28 agencies are on the ground, combing the entire 14.9-acre blast site. The fire marshal says they are close to making a determination of the cause, and they've narrowed it down to accidental, criminal or under minded.

The plan reported its on-premise chemicals to the appropriate departments, but there was concern about ammonium nitrate that may have been on the property. That chemical is highly explosive.

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