The site of the deadly West explosion. (Photo by Kyle Muscarello)
WACO (June 21, 2013)—The City of West filed a lawsuit Friday in state district court in Waco against West Fertilizer Co. and the company that sold the plant hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, alleging negligence in the April 17 explosion that killed 15, injured 200 and damaged or destroyed dozens of buildings.
The lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages of more than $1 million, names Adair Grain, Inc., the owner of the fertilizer plant; CF Industries Sales, LLC based in Wilmington, Del.; CF Industries Holdings, Inc., based in Deerfield, Ill., and CF Industries, Inc., also based in Deerfield, Ill.
The explosion did about $17 million in damage primarily to West’s water and sewer systems, but the owners of the fertilizer plant carried only $1 million in liability insurance, and last week the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it won’t provide money to help rebuild the damaged infrastructure.
In a letter sent To Gov. Rick Perry, who requested a major disaster declaration for West, FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate said “this event is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.”
CF Industries is the second largest nitrogen fertilizer producer and third largest phosphate fertilizer producer among public companies in the world, according to information on the company’s Website.
Repeated calls to the company Friday afternoon weren’t returned.
The suit alleges CF Industries failed to inspect the plant on the outskirts of West to determine “if hazard mitigation was needed” or to make “recommendations for safe storage of ammonium nitrate” and that the company “made no effort to determine the risk to the community into which their product was shipped.”
It alleges the company failed to provide an accurate and current material safety data sheet along with 100-ton ammonium nitrate shipments to the plant in March and April and also refused to include an additive or coating that would have prevented the chemical from exploding.
The suit claims West Fertilizer Co. was negligent in the manner in which the ammonium nitrate was stored.
Investigators spent weeks excavating the blast site.
They determined that the fire that led to the powerful explosion was caused either by a battery-powered golf cart that was kept in the fertilizer and seed building in which the fire started, the building’s 120-volt electrical system or by an intentional criminal act.
As much as 64 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored in the building, 28 to 34 tons of which exploded, investigators said, while an additional 20 to 30 tons in the building and another 100 tons in a nearby railcar did not explode.
The total amount of ammonium nitrate on the site was about 150 tons, less than 270 tons that federal records indicated was stored at the plant.
By comparison, the amount of ammonium nitrate that exploded on April 17 in West was about 12 times the amount used in the truck bomb that blew the side off of the Albert P. Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City.
The fire actually caused two explosions, just milliseconds apart, Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said.
The first, which was the result of some combination of heat, building pressure from containment and shock from falling debris and equipment, triggered the second larger blast, he said.
Twelve first responders and three residents died in the explosion.
Three of West’s four schools were damaged, two of them beyond repair.
The architectural firm the school district hired said the intermediate and high schools should be demolished, but said the gym and original high school building on the middle school campus can be salvaged, although the rest of the school should also be bulldozed.
The cost of rebuilding could top $100 million, officials said, $60 million of which is covered by the district’s insurance policy.
West Mayor Tommy Muska has said the explosion destroyed 161 homes, 58 of which were not insured, and caused major damage to another 52, 21 of which were uninsured. Of the 46 homes that sustained minor damage, 25 were uninsured.
The Insurance Council of Texas, an insurance industry trade group, estimated that insured losses from the fertilizer plant explosion will likely exceed $100 million.
Waco attorney Stephen Harrison and Zona Jones of the Provost Umphrey law firm in Beaumont are representing the city in the suit.