West Residents Slowly Allowed to Return Home

Residents from Oak to Walnut Streets to be allowed to return in first of several reentry stages

Residents of West formed a mile-long line as authorities allowed some to return to their homes for the first time since Wednesday night's explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed 14 people.

Mayor pro tem Steve Vanek announced Saturday afternoon that residents from Oak to Walnut Streets would be the first to be allowed back into their neighborhoods. It's the first of several planned reentry stages.

"We are going through a tough time here and we are working diligently to get everybody back in their homes," said Vanek. "And we really mean that, we're really working hard for our people."

Law enforcement set up a barricade and checked the ID of each person in the cars that lined up. Some who did not belong were turned away. Several insurance agents were among those trying to enter the neighborhood.

The city also said a curfew would be enforced starting at sundown and that residents would need to stay inside their homes or leave the impact zone by 7 p.m. and could not return until 7 a.m.

No vehicles larger than pickups would be allowed into the area and each family would be allowed only two vehicles.

Only residents 18 years of age and older who live in the area would be allowed to enter according to the mayor pro tem.

"Due to potential structural damage, residents should be aware of hazards that may include broken glass, nails and any other debris in roadways or in their yards itself," said Vanek.

The Texas Department of Public Safety reiterated that the death toll was still 14 Saturday afternoon.

Vanek would not answer reporter questions about if anyone is still missing in the explosion.

Mayor Tommy Mushak is holing a town hall meeting for citizens at 4 p.m.

Vanek said the city was working on a memorial for those killed in the explosion, but said it was too soon to provide details.

Residents were urged to check the City of West website or call the city's hotline 254-826-7550  for updates on future reentry phases.

Small Fires at Explosion Site Contained

"First and foremost I want to dispel any rumors of any health or safety hazards or threats at this time in the city of West. It is safe, it is safe, it is safe for our citizens," Vanek said at the beginning of Saturday afternoon's news conference.

The statement came after officials told residents displaced by the massive fertilizer plant explosion in Texas that tanks on site are leaking gas and causing small fires, according to the Associated Press.

They said the fires are contained, but they prevented those who live nearby from returning to their homes in the town of West.

He said the leaks were caused by tanks damaged by heat and had triggered small fires. He said no further evacuations were necessary.

Paramedic Bryce Reed visited a hotel crammed with displaced residents on Saturday and gave a short briefing.

Reed, who is also a spokesman for West, said there may be reports of "another explosion in West," but warned that those are exaggerated.

Residents Ready to Return Home

Many West residents spent all day Saturday at City Hall hoping to get an update from officials on when the road blocks will be lifted and they’ll be allowed to start picking up the pieces at home.

"We just want to get back home and get to fixing the house up. Get back to life. I know there's a lot of stuff that needs to be done to the perimeter," said displaced resident Pete Arias. "But it's not a huge perimeter."

Pete Arias, his wife Jackie and his 8-year-old son Sam have been staying with his mother in Waco.

Their house in the 900 block of Main Street was damaged but not destroyed in the explosion.

"I'm trying to stay calm about the whole situation. We're in an area where all the windows shattered and the garage doors are damaged. We all suffered the same damage on that block. Nobody's house was totally floored, or totally destroyed. We should be allowed to get in there and try and fix some of the damage to the house," he said.

Jackie Arias said she's worried about the toll it's taking on the town's children.

"Our son has to go to school on Monday, and it's like, you want your life to come back together. Especially for the kids, it's so important to keep them on schedule. Because if you don't, they know something's wrong in their world," she said.

Classes will resume on Monday and many parents said they have no idea how the school bus routes will be affected in the area.

NBC 5's Jeff Smith contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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