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Texas fertiliser plant blast: Criminal probe launched

The burning remains of a fertiliser plant after a huge explosion at West, Texas 18 April 2013
Image caption The blast was so big it was felt in the surrounding area

Texas authorities have launched a criminal probe into a deadly explosion at a fertiliser plant in April.

The incident "severely impacted" the community in the town of West, a law enforcement official said.

The 17 April explosion at West Fertilizer Company killed 14 people, wounded 200, and caused a tremor as powerful as a small earthquake.

Meanwhile, a paramedic who responded to the blast was charged with possessing pipe bomb components, prosecutors said.

The explosion flattened homes, shattered a block of flats and badly damaged a nursing home and several schools.

"This disaster has severely impacted the community of West, and we want to ensure that no stone goes unturned and that all the facts related to this incident are uncovered," Texas Public Safety Director Steven McGraw said.

And McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said: "The citizens of McLennan County and Texas must have confidence that this incident has been looked at from every angle."

The statement did not detail any further reasons for the criminal investigation and said no additional information would be released.

Authorities had said earlier there was no indication that the explosion and the fires that preceded it were anything other than an industrial accident.

Also on Friday, paramedic Bryce Reed made a brief court appearance in the town of Waco where he was charged with owning an unregistered destructive device.

According to the criminal complaint, police were called to a Texas residence on Tuesday where they discovered bomb-making components including a galvanised metal pipe, fuse, lighter and explosive powder in bags.

A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives specialist and a chemist examined the items and agreed the "combination of parts can be readily assembled into a destructive device", the complaint says.

Image caption Bryce Reed was one of the first responders at the scene of the blast

Law enforcement officials have not linked the charge to the fire or the explosion at the fertiliser plant.

Sheriff McNamara said in a statement: "It is important to emphasize that at this point, no evidence has been uncovered to indicate any connection to the events surrounding the fire and subsequent explosion... and the arrest of Bryce Reed."

Mr Reed, who was one of the first paramedics to arrive at the scene of the blast, did not enter a plea.

If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and be fined up to $250,000 (£163,000).

Bryce Reed made a series of heartfelt television appearances after the incident, in which he said he was devastated by the explosion and denied being a hero.

The Dallas Morning News that Bryce Reed told the newspaper he had assumed radio command of the response to the fertiliser plant incident after it killed his superiors and colleagues.

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