WEST, Texas (KXAN) — The Texas State Fire Marshal's Office estimated they are about halfway through the investigation into the cause of the West fertilizer plant explosion.
Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said during a tour of the site on Thursday that the size of the area, the amount of debris, and the litany of investigating agencies are drawing the process out.
"The coordination can be a challenge," said Kistner about the 29 agencies involved in the investigation. "A lot of the problems we have been running into is just the magnitude of the debris field and how far out debris has been found from the blast."
Investigators used high-tech equipment in an effort to figure out what caused a massive, deadly fertilizer plant explosion in Texas have talked to more than 370 people and received more than 200 tips, but still don't have a breakthrough.
Two weeks after the April 17 blast that killed at least 14 people, agents compare their work to solving a puzzle or completing an archaeological dig.
"We're trying to find the critical piece," said Chris Connealy, the state fire marshal, on Thursday.
Kistner said they are working from the areas that have the least amount of damage to those that have the most and it spans a 15-acre area.
More than 12,000 manpower hours have already been spent looking at each individual piece of debris, interviewing workers, and testing chemicals.
Putting it all together is like putting together a 1,00-piece puzzle, Kistner said.
"It is like you are trying to find the missing piece of the puzzle and then get the right answer supported scientifically," he said.
At a Texas House committee meeting on Wednesday, state leaders talked about policies and regulations surrounding similar fertilizer plants. But Kistner said the most important answers are owed to the people of West.
"We are here to get answers to families who lost their loved ones and to help those here find out what happened."
The work is complex for several reasons: the magnitude of the blast at West Fertilizer, which knocked out windows and rooftops all over the tiny town of West and registered as a small earthquake; the deaths of 10 first responders and two others who volunteered to help; and the spread of debris as far as two miles away.
Agents are using digital mapping of the plant, rakes, shovels and front-end loaders to sift through dirt and rubble over an approximately 15-acre site. Possible bits of evidence are being cataloged and tested.
This report contains material from The Associated Press.
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