With search and rescue efforts continuing, it was clear the town's landscape was going to be changed forever by the four-to-five block radius leveled by the blast. An apartment complex was badly shattered, a school set ablaze, and a nursing home was left in ruins.
Residents were kept out of a large swath of West, where search and rescue teams continued to pick through the rubble. Some with permission made forays closer to the destruction and came back stunned, and it was possible other residents would be allowed to retrieve some personal belongings Friday, emergency workers said.
Garage doors were ripped off homes. Fans hung askew from twisted porches. At West Intermediate School, which was close to the blast site, all of the building's windows were blown out, as well as the cafeteria.
"I had an expectation of what I would see, but what I saw went beyond my expectations in a bad way," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott after his visit. "It is very disturbing to see the site.
Fifteen years ago, Brenda Covey, 46, lived in the now-leveled apartment complex across the street from the plant.
On Thursday, she learned that two men she knew, both volunteer firefighters, had perished. Word of one came from her landlord because they live in the same complex in nearby Hillsboro. The other was the best man at her nephew's wedding.
"Word gets around quick in a small town," said Covey, who spent her whole life living in and around West.
Firefighter Darryl Hall, from Thorndale, about 50 miles away from West, was one of the rescue workers helping with the house to house search.
"People's lives are devastated here. It's hard to imagine," Hall said.
The explosion apparently was touched off by a fire, but it remained unclear what sparked the blaze. A team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives still had not been able to begin investigating the scene Thursday because it remained unsafe, agency spokeswoman Franceska Perot said.