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Investigators need more time at Texas blast site

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 8:27 p.m.
Mangled debris litters the site of West Fertilizer' plant on Thursday, April 18, 2013, a day after an explosion leveled the West, Texas, facility.

WEST, Texas — Nearly a month into their review of the deadly blast at a Texas fertilizer plant, investigators are hoping to draw a picture from the air of how the plant looked before the explosion and compare it to the 93-foot-wide crater that's there now.

They'll paint and mark off lines for the walls of each building at West Fertilizer, where an April 17 explosion killed at least 14 people. Then, they'll fly overhead to compare the lines to the crater.

That process will occur as investigators try to reconstruct whatever they can of the plant in hopes of nailing down how ammonium nitrate detonated a deadly blast in the plant.

Their work has taken longer than expected, causing some frustration as people continue to wait for answers. After saying they might finish this week, officials said they'll need more time.

State and federal workers have sorted through much of the debris with rakes, shovels and by hand. The material they considered to be possible evidence was stacked atop blue tarps — “boneyards” — scattered over the site. The rest of the debris was trucked away.

A site that was covered in twisted metal and planks of wood last week has been cleared in most parts.

They had slightly expanded the wall of one building rebuilt through pieces of debris and were planning to reposition power lines in their original locations on the site.

“We're not talking about a 100 percent reconstruction. You can't do that, especially at this site. That's not going to happen,” said Brian Hoback, a national response team supervisor for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “But what you try to do is you try to reconstruct those things that are important to you in terms of origin and cause.”

While the fire marshal's office said this week that stores of ammonium nitrate exploded, officials said they still didn't know what caused it to detonate or what caused the fire beforehand.

Assistant state fire marshal Kelly Kistner laid out four possible factors, any one of which could have caused the ammonium nitrate to explode: heat, possibly from the fire; a physical shock to the chemical; an issue with how it was contained or stored; and contamination.

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