Chief Sam Pena said Frank Flores and Gerardo Castorena Sr., employees of Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, were using the gym facility before the workday when the explosion happened. Both were killed.
People were rocked awake around 4:30 a.m. The blast shook homes miles away.
ORIGINAL STORY: Massive blast damage field treated as crime scene
"The blast radius was significant," said Pena.
In a news conference late Friday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said 214 homes were damaged. About 50 had significant damage. Twenty people suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
"I thought it was a tornado and I was so scared. I told my husband, let's go, get out of here," said Maria Salazar who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to Watson Grinding, a company that provides machining, grinding and thermal spray coating to customers, according to its website.
At daybreak, the destruction was incredible. The blast site was littered with debris. Houston firefighters and police officers went door-to-door checking on residents. Turner was grateful the fallout wasn't worse.
"Had the explosion occurred two hours later, many individuals, more lives would have been lost," said the Mayor.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee vowed to get federal help for the residents affected.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo warned looters of the consequences.
"God forbid you loot, we will arrest you and charge you to the full extent of the law," he said.
Acevedo said there will be a police presence in the neighborhoods and at the company for as long as it's needed. Federal safety and arson investigators will return Saturday morning to resume their investigation into the cause and origin. They are looking into whether a leaking propylene tank may have sparked the explosion.
"We certainly want to hold people accountable and responsible for what happened today," Turner said.
On Friday evening, a representative of Watson Grinding and Manufacturing gave the following statement:
"Watson Grinding and Manufacturing experienced an incident in the early hours of January 24, 2020 that resulted in the fatalities of two of our employees and impacted our operations.
We are saddened by the tragic passing of our coworkers, and our deepest sympathies are with their families for their profound loss. We are working diligently to address the situation and cooperating with the federal, state and local authorities investigating the accident. We are extremely grateful for the brave efforts of first responders who were on the scene immediately, and we will continue to give our full cooperation and support to their efforts. Our hearts go out to the families and businesses impacted by this incident and to our community. At this time our immediate concern is the safety and wellbeing of everyone in the area and our employees. Further updates will be provided as more information becomes available."
-Watson Grinding and Manufacturing
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