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Investigators say Texas fertiliser plant explosion caused by ammonium nitrate

08 May 2013

The Texas state fire marshal's office has confirmed that the devastating explosion that left 14 people dead and about 200 injured on April 17 was due to the detonation of ammonium nitrate stored at the site in West, near Waco. The actual cause of the fire and subsequent blast at the West Fertilizer Co facility is still being determined, investigators said.

The fire marshal's office has been leading the investigation alongside the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Investigators had hoped to determine by May 10 what caused the explosion, Texas Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said at a state legislative hearing last week. But the fire marshal's office said this week that the investigation will take one or two weeks beyond that.

The blast caused an estimated $100 million in damages to homes, businesses and schools near the plant. The dead included 11 firefighters and other first responders who had rushed to contain a fire at the plant.

More than 70 investigators have developed over 200 leads, from which over 400 interviews have been conducted. Investigators believe the fire started somewhere in the 1,100 square meter fertiliser and seed building and are still trying to find the exact location.

Investigators told Reuters they had eliminated weather, natural causes, anhydrous ammonia, a railcar containing ammonium nitrate, and a fire within the ammonium nitrate bin as possible causes for the initial fire.

Additionally, they said water used during fire fighting activities did not contribute to the cause of the explosion as some had speculated.

Seven lawsuits have so far been filed against Adair Grain Inc, which owned the facility. Plaintiffs claim negligence by the plant employees and are seeking millions of dollars in claims. 

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