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Weather, rail car cargo exonerated

Crews continue cleanup on Tuesday, April 23, 2013, at the site of a fertilizer plant explosion last week in West, Texas.

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By Reuters
Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

WEST, Texas — A rail car filled with extremely hazardous ammonium nitrate did not cause the fiery explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant, investigators said on Tuesday, in their first statement ruling out possible sources of the deadly blast six days ago.

Fourteen people died in the explosion at West Fertilizer Co. last Wednesday, and about 200 were injured.

Investigators said they ruled out a weather event such as lightning as the cause of the fire and blast, and said they had narrowed down the possible sources to an accident, arson or an unexplained cause.

The repercussions of the blast increased, as the McLennan County district court said at least two lawsuits had been filed against the company's parent, Adair Grain. They were filed by a displaced resident of the town, and insurance companies representing businesses damaged by the blast.

Investigators had been extremely tight-lipped about what might have caused the explosion and inferno that wiped out parts of the town of West, Texas.

Attention had focused on the presence at the plant of large quantities of ammonium nitrate, a dry fertilizer mixed with other ingredients and applied to crops.

Ammonium nitrate also is a possible ingredient in a bomb and was used by Timothy McVeigh in 1995 to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

West Fertilizer disclosed to a Texas state agency that it had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate on hand at the plant last year. There also had been persistent rumors that a rail car delivered to the plant by Union Pacific full of ammonium nitrate might have caught on fire and caused the blast.

But Kelly Kistner, assistant Texas state fire chief, ruled out the rail car of ammonium nitrate as the cause.

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