Authorities have launched a criminal investigation into last month’s explosion at a Texas fertiliser plant which killed 14 people, wounded 200 and levelled several blocks in the small town of West.
The blast had been treated previously as an industrial accident.
The news comes on the same day that a paramedic who had been among the first responders to the incident was arrested for allegedly possessing a pipe bomb. It was not clear whether the arrest was related to the explosion at West Fertiliser Co on 17 April.
The blast caused a shockwave equivalent to a small earthquake, destroyed several homes that surrounded the plant and caused severe damage to a nearby school and nursing home in the town of around 2,800, about 20 miles north of Waco. Authorities seemed to have concluded that the fireball’s likely cause was the plant’s large supply of the agricultural chemical ammonium nitrate, which can be highly explosive.
But the public safety director for Texas, Steven McGraw, said in a statement yesterday: “This disaster has severely impacted the community of West and we want to ensure that no stone goes unturned and that all the facts related to this incident are uncovered.”
There were no further reasons given for the opening of a criminal investigation. The paramedic Bryce Reed appeared in a Waco court yesterday to be charged with owning an unregistered destructive device. He did not enter a plea, but could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Mr Reed, who was among the emergency personnel who responded to a fire at West Fertiliser on the evening of 17 April, later told The Los Angeles Times he had been ordered to leave the immediate scene shortly before the explosion occurred to take on the role of incident commander.