WEST, Texas - For the first time since a devastating explosion at a fertilizer depot Wednesday, some people here were allowed into their homes Saturday for a few minutes.
People who live on the outskirts of the damaged area, between Oak and Walnut streets, were told to line up on a road at the edge of town. Two cars per household would be allowed in starting at 3 p.m., city councilman Steve Vanek said.
Residents of that less-damaged area would be permitted to stay in their homes under a 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. curfew.
"People need to go in at their own risk," Vanek added. "You can stay on your own property, but you can't go visit your neighbor's house. There will be law enforcement there. There will be a lot of law enforcement there."
There is no information yet about plans for a memorial service and funerals, he said.
Melvin "Inky" Adamson, 49, and his wife were a day away from signing papers to move from their apartment into a new house when the explosion happened. "I just want to find out if it's still there - if we've still got a house," he said.
As many as 200 homes in this town of 2,800 people were still cordoned off. Police were stationed at intersections to keep looters and gawkers away.
Andrea Jones, 40, knows her apartment is gone. A friend's husband who works for the sheriff's department was on one of the search-and-rescue teams that combed the wreckage.
"He said there's nothing salvageable, and my car's destroyed," she said. But she and her son were safe, "so I'm fine. That's all that's important."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the explosion "stunning" at a news conference Friday and said it was amazing that more people weren't killed given the strength of the explosion, which fused nearby railroad tracks and obliterated the fertilizer depot.
The blast killed at least 14 people, five of them volunteer firefighters. Another five firefighters were hospitalized, said West Mayor Tommy Muska, who was a 26-year member of the fire department himself.
With the fire department of 33 people "basically wiped out," Perry said, fire departments from around the state were sending help.
Even something as simple as getting messages to townsfolk was difficult. City Secretary Joey Pustejovsky was a firefighter who died in the blast. "We can't get into our Facebook page because that was his job," Muska said. "I talked to him every day, and now he's not here."
The cause of the fire that triggered the explosion was still unknown. West Fertilizer Co. had as much as 270 tons of ammonium nitrate on hand for spring planting.
The owner of the fertilizer plant issued a statement Friday: "As a lifelong resident, my heart is broken with grief for the tragic losses to so many families in our community," wrote Donald Adair, 83. "The selfless sacrifice of first responders who died trying to protect all of us is something I will never get over. I was devastated to learn that we lost one of our employees in the explosion. He bravely responded to the fire at the facility as a volunteer firefighter."
Perry said authorities would inventory the state's fertilizer plants for dangerous chemicals. "Obviously I think there will be a lot of local, state and probably federal oversight," he said at a news conference in West Friday evening. "If there's a better way to do this, we want to know about it."
He noted that the Legislature will be in session for the next thirty days, making quick legislation possible.
"The safety of our citizens, our schoolchildren - those are legitimate and appropriate questions for us to be asking," he said.
The search-and-rescue operation ended Friday. McLennan county judge Scott Felton said there were 14 known dead and "not more than one or two more" unaccounted for.
This town, settled largely by Czech immigrants, has a large number of Catholics. Federal officials have set up an aid headquarters at St. Mary's Church of the Assumption. That has caused traffic snarls near the church. Because many people are expected to attend Mass on Saturday night and Sunday, the city will bus people to church from the West fairgrounds.
The town is doing what it can to get back to normal. The school system has 1,500 students and 200 staffers. It had four schools, only one of which survived unscathed. The elementary school on the other side of town was fine, but the intermediate school for fourth and fifth grades, the middle school and the high school were all closed because of damage.
School will be back in session Monday, parents say they have been told. The nearby Grapevine Colleyville school district is donating portable classrooms to house the fourth and fifth graders. They'll be placed next to the elementary school. A shuttered high school in McLennan County south of town was being cleaned out and will house the West middle and high school students.
"They're trying to start a normal life for them again," Jones said.
The outpouring of aid has been enormous, sometimes hard to handle. Mayor Muska asked people to make donations to the Red Cross because "we've hit saturation point on receiving stuff." Food, clothing and furniture were still pouring in, but "we're running out of places to put it," he said.
Social media were helping people get things they need. One woman posted that though there was a ton of clothing, she had been wearing her bra for three days. "The next day they got a big shipment of really nice bras sent here, all new, from a store in Waco," said Angie White Hewitt. She and other members of Victorious Life Church in Robinson have been here since Thursday, coordinating food and clothing out of the breakfast room at the Czech Inn in West.
Texans, Jones said, take care of their own. "We're going to be all right. We're like our own little country down here."