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Texas fertilizer plant explosion death toll rises to 14

The fertilizer plant that devastated a small Texas town and killed at least 14 people had last year been storing dangerously high levels of ammonium nitrate, which can be used in bomb making.

West fertilizer plant explosion texas 18 04 2013Enlarge
Smoke rises in the distance about half a mile from the West Fertilizer Company, April 18, 2013 in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer company injured more than 100 people and left damaged buildings for blocks in every direction. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As the death toll in the Texas fertilizer plant blast climbed to 14, investigators announced they were winding down their search and rescue efforts. 

"It's going to be a long recovery for this community," Gov. Rick Perry said.

The massive explosion tore through West, in Texas, Wednesday night, flattening homes and displacing hundreds of people in the small rural community.

"The devastation is immense," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told Fox News.

Many killed were first responders who rushed to the scene when the blast occurred.

The State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas confirmed five West firefighters had lost their lives, a firefighter from Dallas was killed and four emergency responders also died.

"There's no words for it. It is a small community, and everyone knows the first responders … all volunteer," said long-term resident Christina Rodarte, 46.

Four civilians were also killed in the disaster which destroyed at least 80 homes, the mayor of West, Tommy Musko, ABC News reported.

More from GlobalPost: Before Texas plant exploded: What did regulators know?

It remains unclear what caused the deadly explosion but investigators are expected to probe safety protocols and risk assessment programs.

According to the Dallas News in 2012, a building at the plant was storing at least 540,000 pounds of potentially dangerous ammonium nitrate, which is more than 100 times the weight of explosives used in the Oklahoma City bombing 18 years ago. 

Reuters also claimed the plant was storing large amounts of ammonium nitrate yet did not inform the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as it is required to do so.

A US congressman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, said this failure to fully disclose information may have contributed to the disaster.

"This facility was known to have chemicals well above the threshold amount to be regulated under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act (CFATS), yet we understand that DHS did not even know the plant existed until it blew up," he said in a statement.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were working with federal and local authorities to determine the cause, Perry said. 

Sen. John Cornyn told reporters Friday that concerns remained for 60 residents who remained unaccounted for, USA Today reported. 

"Right now the authorities are going to the hospitals and making sure they know where people are," he said.

Speaking at a conference Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry described the explosion as a "truly nightmare scenario," Fox News reported.

"This tragedy has most likely hit every family, touched practically everyone in that town,” Perry said.

He asked for people to pray for the community. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/130419/texas-plant-explosion-death-toll-rises-13