Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Obama consoles plant blast town

Barack Obama speaks at the memorial for firefighters killed at the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas (AP/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama has consoled a rural Texas community rocked by a deadly fertiliser plant explosion, telling mourners they are not alone in their grief and they will have America's support to rebuild.

"This small town's family is bigger now," Mr Obama said during a memorial service at Baylor University for victims of last week's explosion in nearby West 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 population of 2,700.

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

The April 17 explosion left a crater more than 90ft wide and damaged dozens of buildings, displacing many residents from their homes. The Insurance Council of Texas estimates it caused more than 100 million dollars (£65 million) in damage, and crews were sifting the rubble to search for clues to what caused the explosion and whether foul play was involved.

The blast came about 20 minutes after a fire was reported at West Fertiliser. Ten of those killed were first responders who sped to the night-time blaze.

The memorial service honoured those first responders and two civilians who tried to fight the fire and were posthumously named volunteer first responders.

Mr Obama spoke for 16 minutes, quoting scripture and lauding the men whose flag-draped coffins laid before him. "When you got to the scene, you forgot fear and you fought that blaze as hard as you could, knowing the danger."

The president and first lady Michelle Obama wiped away tears as a piper played Amazing Grace.

Mr Obama added his appearance at the memorial service on to a long-planned trip to Texas for Thursday's opening of George W Bush's presidential library at Southern Methodist University. Mr Bush sent his sympathies in a statement read at the service by Baylor president Ken Starr, the former special prosecutor who investigated president Bill Clinton.

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