Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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April 16, 2014

Victims in Texas blast choose closure over answers

WEST, Texas (AP) — Families of the 15 people killed in a massive explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant have spent the year since the blast navigating the difficult balance between moving forward and digging for answers from the past.

Many of them filed lawsuits seeking answers after a fire at West Fertilizer Company caused a blast so powerful that it leveled nearby schools and homes, left a wide crater at the plant site, and scattered debris miles away. Key questions about the April 17, 2013, blast remain unanswered, including what sparked the fire and what firefighters knew about the chemicals inside the plant.

The lawsuits against the plant's owners and companies doing business with the plant are mired in a legal process that could eventually uncover new details through testimony and documents. But that process will take at least another year to complete.

Several relatives acknowledged those questions, but said they wanted to move on and not dwell on the past, even as the city itself shows physical signs of progress. About 70 homes have been finished or in the process of construction and the wreckage at West Fertilizer has been long cleared away.

"In some ways, I want to know, 'Why did this happen?'" said Holly Harris, whose husband, Dallas Fire-Rescue Capt. Kenneth Luckey Harris, was killed while trying to pull other firefighters away from the smoldering plant. She is among those who have filed a lawsuit. "But maybe we'll never know, and if we keep trying to figure it out, we'll drive ourselves crazy."

Investigators determined that a fire ignited as many as 34 tons of ammonium nitrate, a common but potentially explosive component in fertilizer that was also used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. But they have not pinpointed what started the fire or announced whether volunteer firefighters rushing into the blaze knew enough about the dangers they faced. Among those killed in West were a dozen volunteer firefighters and others trying to help.

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