UPDATE 7:30 p.m.: Gov. Rick Perry toured the disaster zone in West and met with local officials and state and local emergency responders about relief and recovery efforts underway.
“I’d like to thank everyone who has put so much time and determination into caring for their fellow Texans over the past two days,” Perry said. “Whether they worked triage the night of the explosion, pulled extra shifts at area hospitals, or just took one of their displaced neighbors into their home they are the heart and soul of the Texas tradition of “neighbor helping neighbor.
“No doubt, there is a lot of work that lies ahead and the road to recovery is long. But this community will come together, this community will mourn and this community will rebuild.”
UPDATE 4:30 p.m.: Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes confirmed two more fatalities in West, bringing the official total to 14. He did not take any questions after his statement.
On Thursday, longtime Justice of the Peace David Pareya estimated the death toll would rise to around 17.
State officials said they would hold a press conference at 5 p.m. to address conflicting statements about the number of missing people that remain in the disaster.
UPDATE 4:16 p.m.: Donald Adair, a lifelong resident of the community of West and the owner of Adair Grain Inc., today issued the following statement:
“This has been a terrible week for everyone in West, Texas and I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt sympathy for those affected and my appreciation for those who responded.
“As a lifelong resident, my heart is broken with grief for the tragic losses to so many families in our community. I know that everyone has been deeply affected by this incident. Loved ones have been injured or killed. Homes have been damaged or destroyed. Our hearts go out to everyone who has suffered.
“The selfless sacrifice of first responders who died trying to protect all of us is something I will never get over. I was devastated to learn that we lost one of our employees in the explosion. He bravely responded to the fire at the facility as a volunteer firefighter. I will never forget his bravery and his sacrifice, or that of his colleagues who rushed to the trouble.
“This tragedy will continue to hurt deeply for generations to come.
“My family and I can’t express enough our deep appreciation for the loving service and selfless sacrifice from within and around our community responding to the urgent needs of those affected. I am proud to be associated with West Church of Christ, which has opened its doors to the State of Texas to provide grief counseling services. My family and I will continue to assist in relief efforts through our church family.
“The genuine kindness we have witnessed will be the hallmark for all of our children’s children.
“Going forward, the owners and employees of Adair Grain and West Fertilizer Co. are working closely with investigating agencies. We are presenting all employees for interviews and will assist in the fact finding to whatever degree possible. We pledge to do everything we can to understand what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any community.
“While the investigation continues, and out of respect for the investigative process, we will limit our comments during the weeks and months ahead.”
UPDATE 3:53 p.m.: Morris Bridges and Kenny Harris are among the firefighters killed in Wednesday’s explosion.
Bridges, 41, a fire sprinkler service technician for Action Fire Pros in Hewitt and Waxahachie, had been a West volunteer firefighter for about a year.
He got the call about the fire at the fertilizer plant, kissed his 2-year-old son goodbye and told his wife, Carman, that he would be right back, said Daryl Barber, vice president at Action Fire Pros.
“He just never made it back,” Barber said. “He was a very hard worker. He shows up early every day. He was a first responder even before he was a first responder. He was always the first guy on the job, always up early, always there to help.”
Bridges also has an 18-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter.
Harris, 52, was a fire captain for the city of Dallas who lived in West, Dallas city officials have confirmed. Harris, 52, arrived at the scene Wednesday evening to help in an unofficial capacity. He was 52 and the father of three.
“Captain Harris rushed to the scene, compelled to provide assistance to his community during this crisis,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings in a news release. “I want to express my deepest condolences to his family, friends and co-workers.”
UPDATE 2:45 p.m.: West City Secretary Joey Pustejovsky and Cody Dragoo, an employee of West Fertilizer Co., are presumed dead by friends and family members.
Bernice Pustejovsky, 82, said her husband was related to Joey Pustejovsky, who was also a volunteer fireman for the city.
“Joey was a very good person,” she said. “A real good man. He had a lot of friends. Anytime the fire bell went off, he was there. What else can you say that is any better than that. He was always there helping.”
Dragoo, 50, who was also a West Volunteer fireman, was married but had no children, said Karen McCullough, a longtime friend of Dragoo’s.
“He was the best. He was the most caring, giving person. There are not enough words to describe him,” McCullough said.
UPDATE 12:55 p.m.: Immediate family members’ Facebook pages have confirmed the death of Jimmy Matus, 52, in the Wednesday night explosion of the West Fertilizer Co. plant. He is owner of Westex Welding, 210 Cottonwood Road in West.
UPDATE 12:10 p.m.: Perry Calvin, a member of the Navarro Mills Volunteer Fire Department and the son of its chief, is among the victims of the Wednesday night explosion at West Fertilizer Co., family members confirmed.
Calvin, 37, was a married father of two young children, with a third on the way, said his sister, Penny Sprouse. He worked for the volunteer fire department at Mertens and Navarro Mills, where his father, Phil, is chief.
Calvin was preparing to graduate from Hill College Fire Academy.
UPDATE 11:35 a.m.: Among the firefighters who died in the West Fertilizer Co. explosion Wednesday night were Buck Uptmor of West Volunteer Fire Department and Cyrus Reed and Jerry Chapman of Abbott Volunteer Fire Department, Abbott Mayor Harry Nors said Friday.
Buck Uptmor, well-known as the owner of a fencing company and as a former professional bullrider, was in his 50s, friends said.
“He was a real good rodeo rider,” said Bill McKown, a retired Abbott school superintendent. “I used to kid him that he had broken every bone in his body two or three times.”
Uptmor’s Abbott-based company, Uptmor Welding and Fencing, had recently fenced the city cemetery in West and was about to do some work for McKown. McKown said it appears Uptmor was one of the first responders to the scene and was working to rescue livestock when the blast occurred.
“It’s just a tragedy to lose people like Buck,” McKown said.
Chapman, 26, was the adopted son of former Abbott fire chief Darrel Strickland and his wife, Doreen, said Nors, the mayor.
“He was just a good, friendly guy,” Nors said.
Chapman was single and worked odd jobs, in addition to his work as a firefighter, Nors said. Some media outlets have reported that he was in emergency training classes when the call for the fire went out.
Cyrus Reed, who was also a young single man, worked in a plant in Waxahachie that dealt with explosives, Nors said. Reed’s family was from the Houston area.
For the town of Abbott, population 364, the loss of these lives is hard to describe, Nors said.
“Everybody’s devastated,” Nors said. “We’re not doing a whole lot of talking about it. All of us really are like a big family. It’s like we lost one of our own family mmbers. I haven’t slept any amount since this happened.”
Original story: Texas Department of Public Safety officials confirmed Friday the deaths of 12 people and injuries to about 200 more in the West explosion.
“It is with a heavy heart that I can confirm that 12 individuals have been recovered from the fertilizer plant explosion,” said DPS Sgt. Jason Reyes.
The bodies have been sent to a Dallas forensic lab, he said.
Reyes did not specify where, exactly, the bodies were found, or whether the victims were first responders. West Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek, a volunteer firefighter, confirmed West VFD lost five of its 33 members in blast.
Search and rescue efforts continued overnight and continue today, Reyes said.
In all, 150 homes have been cleared, 50 homes have been destroyed and another 25 homes need to be searched.
“I think it’s only appropriate that we recognize these individuals for their professionalism and heroism as they try to bring closure to those affected by this tragic situation,” Reyes said of search efforts.
Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are expected at a press conference at noon today.
Staff writer Lowell M. Brown contributed to this report.