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News Wrap: Search Continues for Survivors of Texas Explosion

April 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The search for survivors from a fertilizer plant explosion persisted today in the small town of West, Texas, with word 60 people are still unaccounted for.

Search-and-rescue workers sifted through the mangled, burned-out remains of buildings consumed by Wednesday night’s explosion. Until this morning, the death toll was unknown, but Texas public safety officer Jason Reyes gave this figure.

JASON REYES, Texas Department of Public Safety: It is with a heavy heart that I can confirm 12 individuals have been recovered from the fertilizer plant explosion. The deceased have been taken to the Dallas forensics lab for proper identification. To date, there have been approximately 200 reported injuries.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Late today, the death toll grew to 14. Reyes added that he couldn’t say how many of the dead were first-responders.

MAN: So, bomb just went off inside here. It’s pretty bad. We have got a lot of firemen down.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One was identified as Captain Kenneth Harris, a 30-year veteran of the Dallas Fire Department who was off-duty, but lived near West and responded to the scene.

Authorities have now searched and cleared 150 buildings and have another 25 to examine. Meanwhile, federal investigators started collecting debris and other evidence to find a cause.

AMY HUTYRA, Texas: I have friends here. I have relatives just down the road, and you can’t get in touch with them. So that’s why I’m here, just to see if they’re even alive.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This afternoon, Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz toured the devastation. Cornyn said there are still 60 people missing.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: We know that there are a number of people unaccounted for. And right now, the authorities are going to the hospitals and making sure that they know where people are. So they’re in the process. There are a number of confirmed dead, but there are others, people unaccounted for right now and, of course, more than 150 who suffered injuries. So, they’re in the process of going — of making that determination.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, the first remembrances of the victims began last night, as locals gathered for a candlelight vigil at St. Mary’s Church. Authorities have also said there is still no sign of a criminal connection in the plant explosion.

It’s been a violent 24 hours in Iraq, as the country prepares to hold provincial elections on Saturday. Mortar fire and bombs targeted two groups of worshipers north of Baghdad as they were leaving Friday prayers. Nine people died and 29 others were injured. Overnight, a suicide bombing at a popular cafe in the capital killed 36 people and wounded dozens more. Today, the families and friends of the deceased came to a hospital morgue to collect their loved ones’ bodies.

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is now in police custody after being taken — after taking refuge at his home on the outskirts of Islamabad. The ex-military ruler is facing treason charges for firing senior judges while he was in power. Musharraf was arrested a day after fleeing the high court in a black SUV, as angry lawyers yelled after him, calling him a traitor. Musharraf insists his arrest is — quote — “politically motivated.”

Serbia and its former province of Kosovo reached a tentative deal today to normalize relations. The pact brokered by the European Union aimed to settle the status of Kosovo’s Serbian minority, which doesn’t recognize the ethnic Albanian leadership. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. A deal could clear the way for Serbia to start negotiations toward E.U. membership.

Nicolas Maduro was sworn in today as Venezuela’s new president. He was confirmed the winner in Sunday’s election by a slim majority, after which his main challenger, Henrique Capriles, demanded an audit. Maduro’s supporters wore red and lined the streets of Caracas leading to the national assembly, where he took the oath of office. The crowds also honored Hugo Chavez, who hand-picked Maduro as his successor before he died.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement today clearing all Boeing 787 Dreamliners to fly again by next week. The planes have been grounded for more than three months because of a battery system prone to overheating. Boeing redesigned the system and the FAA approved the changes. The grounding has cost Boeing an estimated $600 million dollars.

The Boy Scouts of America said today they will ask their national council to vote on a proposal that would permit gay Boy Scouts, but continue to ban gay leaders. The organization, which has long banned gays, said the new direction is based on survey results from the scouting community. The vote is scheduled for late May.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 10 points to close at 14,547. The Nasdaq rose more than 39 points to close at 3,206. For the week, the Dow lost two percent; the Nasdaq fell 2.7 percent.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Jeff.