Residents return to Texas fertiliser plant blast site

WEST, Texas (AFP) - Some residents displaced by a massive blast at a Texas fertiliser plant were allowed to return to their homes Saturday as officials held firm on a toll of 14 dead.

Nearly all of the 60 people reported missing were found safe at area hotels or with friends.

"There may end up being one or two more missing, but I can't even say that," McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said.

Some 200 other people were injured in Wednesday's blast in West, a small town of 2,800 people located 130km south of Dallas.

Residents anxious to retrieve their belongings and patch up the worst of the damage to their homes cued up for passes to get through a police cordon, but only those on the outer edge of the evacuation zone were allowed to enter.

Aerial footage of the blast site showed homes flattened, a 50-unit apartment complex torn to bits and twisted shards of metal at West Fertilizer, which was one of the town's main employers.

A nursing home and several schools were also badly damaged as the fire spread from building to building.

The blast came with the entire country already on edge after the attacks on the Boston Marathon that left three dead and more than 180 wounded on Monday.

One of the two suspects was arrested on Friday. The other was killed.

"Please be patient and cooperative," West Mayor Steve Vanek said at a press conference.

"We are going through a tough time here and we are working diligently to get everyone back into their homes." Jerry Willienberg, 60, won't be able to get back into his home until at least Sunday. But he's more concerned now about the families of those killed.

"I either went to school with them or worked with them," he said. "It's tough." Mr Willienberg worked as a contractor for the plant, trucking out ammonia just about every other day, and insisted that the plant's owners and workers always took safety precautions.

"Over there at Ted's, it was safety first, all the time," he said.

But the West Fertilizer Company was fined by US regulators in 2012 over its transport of hazardous materials, documents showed.

Willienberg worried about how the town will recover from the tragedy - and the loss of a major employer - but was convinced it will recover.

"West is close-knit. We're going to get over it," he said.

Mr Ron Price, 53, was anxious to see if he could salvage anything from his son's house before checking on his mother recovering in hospital from being trapped after the ceiling collapsed on her at the nearby nursing home.

"My niece dragged her out of the window," Price said. "She got hit on the head when the ceiling fell in and she got a pretty good bruise across the back where it pinned her."