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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The Battalion May 4, 2024

West, TX: One year since the blast

 
 

While the scars left by the plant explosion are still evident, one year later the city of West is on the path to recovery.
On April 17, 2013, a fertilizer plant explosion shook the lives of those in small West, Texas, demolishing buildings throughout the town and causing many to lose both homes and loved ones.
The city will hold a memorial ceremony Thursday, both in remembrance of the accident and to recognize the growth and recovery that the city has gone through since.
Suzanne Hack, West Long-Term Recovery Center executive director, said West is now completely involved in the rebuilding process of the community.
“Over spring break we were able to complete the remainder of the cleanup and the demolition,” Hack said. “Now it’s 100 percent, full-force rebuilding.”
There is a strong sense of community in the small town, a connection that recovery center caseworker Juli Ivie said influenced the initial reaction to the explosion one year ago.
“Places were opening shelters for people to go to,” Ivie said. “A lot of people didn’t go to them. They didn’t have to. If you don’t have family living around here, you’ve got friends that live around here and the community took care of itself. You went to family. You didn’t have to go to a shelter, to a strange place. That’s what amazed me that night.”
The success that the city has seen so far has come from locals as well as volunteers, and volunteer Jim Lawson from Milford, Texas, said the recovery center is really there to keep things organized and moving forward.
“We’re simply conductors,” Lawson said. “We orchestrate and try to coordinate all of the relief efforts from the different groups that come in.”
Brenda Jones is a caseworker for the recovery center, working directly with individuals affected by the explosion. She said the caseworkers on staff were all picked because of their unique talents.
“Every one of us brings something different to the table to make a quality, united team,” Jones said. “And that’s what it’s taken because there’s such a diverse connection that you need all of those talents.”
Now that the city is in the rebuilding process, Hack said money for building supplies is necessary to continue progressing.
“When you drive through town, it’s very hope filled,” Hack said. “You see these beautiful homes that are being built, but people are really exhausting all of their resources to rebuild.”
While the progress has been slow, Ivie said the town is moving toward recovery.
“It’s coming back,” Ivie said. “I mean it is a process. I feel like I’ve been coming here for the last six years with family, friends and I feel like it’s taken a while, but it’s coming back together. It’s never going to be the same. It’ll be a different West – I think it’ll be stronger.”
Playing a part in the rebuilding of West, Addison Porter, senior accounting major, said a group of Aggie students organized a profit share and planned a volunteer trip to West immediately after the accident.
“At that time, right after the explosion, there were still emergency teams in there, government agencies in there trying to make sure it was actually okay for people to go in and help out, so there was almost a standstill for like a week where we weren’t necessarily allowed to go there and help out, physically help out,” Porter said. “Instead of giving them clothes or food or shoes, the thing they needed most was money.”
Tyler Stewart, Class of 2013 and former MSC president, also traveled to West to volunteer. He said A&M was the first university to start volunteer work in West, and the Aggies’ efforts came at an ideal time for the city.
“It took some time to find who was in charge of the relief,” Stewart said. “We were coming right as the federal government was leaving, and they were leaving a hole that the locals in West had to figure out how to fill. There’s this weird limbo when no one really knows who was in charge, and so it was hard to figure out where we fit in.”
Locals still remember the Aggies visit last year. Ivie said she could remember the day that A&M students came into town.
“Oh man, that week after when y’all came up here on those buses – wow,” Ivie said. “I was sitting at the community center, we were down there doing paperwork. I knew that two big buses were already here and I passed two buses from Bryan school district that came in also. The amount of people was amazing.”
When Porter and the other Aggies reached West, he said it looked as if a tornado had struck the city, and the locals were glad to see help.
“We went to the Red Cross headquarters and everyone there was not necessarily happy, but they were in a good mood and helping out and of course tired, but glad to see us,” Porter said.
When the group got on buses and headed to the epicenter of the explosion, zone three, Porter said there were fewer and fewer people.
“I don’t want this to sound depressing, but I would say it was very desolate, very somber,” Porter said. “Quiet would be a great word to describe it – almost like a ghost town. The closer you got to the explosion, the more you could tell that the place was just empty.”
“There was no one out there,” he said. “And that was eerie.”
Above all, Porter said he hopes the people of West understand that even when a disaster like this happens, the community can always move forward.
“There’s a lot of people that care about them,” Porter said. “Even through awful, awful times, there’s still a glimmer of hope that it’ll get better. I hope that this memorial is less of a somber look in the past and more of a hopeful look in the future as to what we can do from here on out, going forward.”
For Stewart, the hope is that the volunteer work of Aggies and other volunteers helped the people of West get their confidence back.
“The community was just rocked and it was really hard for some of them to deal with,” Stewart said. “But I think from the ashes comes new life and I hope that we are seeing that in West now. I hope that they respond stronger than ever and come back.”

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