Two Federal Agencies Send Teams to Texas Fertilizer Explosion Site

Mangled debris of a fertilizer plant are seen Thursday, April 18, 2013, a day after an explosion leveled the plant in West, Texas. Mangled debris of a fertilizer plant are seen Thursday, April 18, 2013, a day after an explosion leveled the plant in West, Texas. Charlie Riedel/AP

The cause of Wednesday’s fatal explosion at a fertilizer facility near Waco, Texas -- be it an industrial accident or criminal act -- will be investigated by two federal agencies along with state authorities.

On Wednesday the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent members of its National Response Team along with special agents from its Houston field office to the rural town of West, south of Dallas.

On Friday, authorities announced that 12 bodies had been recovered, with some 200 residents of nearby homes and farms injured. The explosion occurred in storage tanks containing high-pressure liquid ammonia.

On Thursday night, a team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Investigative Board, an independent, nonregulatory investigative agency, arrived in West, a board spokeswoman confirmed. The dozen, including experts in fire and explosives modeling, make up the largest team the Chemical Board has ever deployed, according to agency general counsel Richard Loeb.

The ATF teams, according to an agency statement, are each composed of veteran special agents who have post-blast and fire origin-and-cause expertise; forensic chemists; explosives enforcement officers; fire protection engineers; accelerant detection canines; explosives detection canines; intelligence support, computer forensic support and audit support. They work with state and local officers in reconstructing the scene, “identifying the seat of the blast or origin of the fire, conducting interviews, and sifting through debris to obtain evidence related to the bombing/arson.”

The Texas mission marks the sixth activation of the national response teams this year, and the 742nd since 1978.

ATF this week also sent investigators up to Boston to work on the marathon bombing case.

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