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Texas blast victims 'not forgotton'

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By The Associated Press
Thursday, April 25, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

WACO, Texas — President Obama consoled a rural Texas community rocked by a deadly fertilizer plant explosion, telling mourners on Thursday they are not alone in their grief and they will have the nation's support to rebuild from the devastation.

“This small town's family is bigger now,” Obama said during a memorial service at Baylor University for victims of last week's explosion in nearby West, Texas, that killed 14 and injured 200. Nearly 10,000 gathered to remember the first responders killed in the blast, a crowd more than triple the size of West's entire population of 2,700.

“To the families, the neighbors grappling with unbearable loss, we are here to say you are not alone. You are not forgotten,” Obama said to applause. “We may not all live here in Texas, but we're neighbors too. We're Americans too, and we stand with you.”

The April 17 explosion left a crater more than 90 feet wide and damaged dozens of buildings, displacing many residents from their homes. The Insurance Council of Texas estimates it caused more than $100 million in damage, and crews were sifting the rubble to search for clues to what caused the explosion or whether foul play was involved.

Ten of those killed were first responders who sped out to the nighttime blaze.

The memorial service honored those first responders and two civilians who tried to fight the fire. Among the dead were brothers Douglas and Robert Snokhous, West High School graduates who volunteered together for the town's fire department for more than 13 years.

As Obama spoke, the gymnasium lit up with the flashes of cameras and cellphones, glimmering like stars in the dimly lit room.

Both the president and first lady Michelle Obama wiped away a tear as bagpipes sounded “Amazing Grace.”

“How does one find such love to be willing to lay down your life so that others may live?” asked Texas Sen. John Cornyn, speaking on behalf of the state's congressional delegation. “This will forever be the legacy of those who ran toward the fire last week.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry eulogized the unpaid first responders.

“These are volunteers. Ordinary individuals blessed with extraordinary courage and a determination to do what they could to save lives,” he said.

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