April 30, 2013 — Three days ago, officials finally gave the “all-clear” for residents of West, Texas to return home. It is the first time many people have seen their homes since a fertilizer plant explosion on April 17 destroyed everything in a five-block radius. An estimated 180 homes were damaged or destroyed, with homes in “Zone 3” hit the hardest because they were closest to the epicenter of the explosion. Many people were lucky to escape with their lives — 15 people perished in the explosion, including many first-responders, and hundreds were injured.
Not everyone who has been allowed into Zone 3 will actually go home. Only five of the homes in the area are still habitable. Many of them were only allowed to get their belongings from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., when they were escorted into the zone. Dozens of homes were heavily damaged, with the roof caved in, walls blown out, furniture reduced to splinters, puffs of insulation on the floor, and cars in the driveway burned down to the frame.
Mayor Tommy Muska, who is also an insurance agent, estimated that the property damage in West was about $24 million. The explosion damaged his four-bedroom home, which will need to be demolished and rebuilt.
Hundreds of people who were displaced by the explosion are renting in the area, staying with friends or family, or staying in hotels or churches nearby that have opened their doors to the people of West. “God bless West,” was written in spray-paint on the exterior of one home that was damaged.
As homeowners clean up and investigators sift through the rubble, memorial services have been ongoing for the people who died in the explosion. Three of the 15 people who died were residents; the others were first-responders who were fighting the fire at the plant before the explosion or evacuating residents. Investigators said that several bodies were found within yards of the 90-foot crater created by the explosion. Their heroic actions are credited for saving many lives in West while residents evacuated.
On April 28, a community meeting was held to share information about the clean-up process and how to deal with insurance company bureaucracy. The Insurance Council of Texas estimated that insured losses may be as high as $100 million. Lawsuits have already been filed by insurance companies against Adair Grain, the owner of West Fertilizer Company.
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