April 22, 2013 — Local authorities have confirmed that the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas killed 14 people. Most of those who perished were volunteer firefighters from the area who valiantly rushed in to battle the initial fire at the fertilizer plant before the explosion. Other first-responders were evacuating residents in the area. When Gov. Rick Perry visited the site, he said, “No doubt, there is a lot of work that lies ahead and the road to recovery is long. But this community will come together, this community will mourn and this community will rebuild.”
There has been an outpouring of support for the people of West, a close-knit town of about 2,800 with a deep Czech heritage. Donation centers have been set up in the community center and WestFest grounds. By 11 a.m. on Saturday, 300 people showed up to volunteer. The day before, between 1,000 to 1,500 people showed up to help out. Some volunteers brought therapy dogs to comfort their neighbors. Volunteers have also created a laundry, child care, shower unit, and more. They are now seeking financial contributions and gift cards for residents to help put their lives back together.
About 1,500 children started school this week at buildings in a neighboring town, which was re-painted in the school’s colors, red and black. Three out of the four schools in West were damaged in the explosion.
The First Baptist Church was also damaged and remains closed because it is in a neighborhood that is still on lockdown. The congregation gathered in a hayfield and sat on folding chairs, while Pastor John Crowder spoke from an improvised pulpit and gave an emotional sermon. “We have more questions than answers,” he said, “We have lost so many of our friends and neighbors.” Indeed, many people are questioning how this disaster could have happened, when West Fertilizer Company said there was no risk of an explosion at the plant.
The investigation into the cause of the explosion could take months, and authorities are still treating the area as a crime scene. The neighborhood closest to the fertilizer plant is on lock down. Police allowed some residents into homes that were not badly damaged, although there was a 7 p.m. curfew and they were under strict orders not to wander beyond their own yard. Many people are staying together in hotels, with friends, or with family.
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