A year after a massive explosion and fire at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, killed 15, including 12 volunteer firefighters, the city is still trying to come to grips with the disaster that has left a deep imprint on the rural town.
“I miss ‘em,” Mayor Tommy Muska told reporters this week as the city geared up for the anniversary. The town will have a moment of silence at 7:51 p.m. on Thursday, the exact time the blast leveled the West Fertilizer Co., destroyed 120 homes and damaged about 200 others. “I know their families miss ‘em,” he said of the fallen firefighters.
Newly released video shows there was a brilliant flash of light followed by what appears to be a massive shock wave.
“It definitely was the biggest explosion I've ever seen,” Jeff Tobola, who shot the video on his cell phone, told CNN. “It seems like it lasted forever.”
"What I was thinking ... as it exploded ... is, 'Am I going to be able to hear when this stops? Is this gonna burn me?' Because, I was like 200 yards away from it," Tobola said.
About 200 people were injured in the blast that lighted up the sky over West, a city of some 2,800 people. Schools, water lines and roads were also severely damaged.
About 70 homes have been rebuilt or are still under construction. Despite the signs of physical rebuilding, the emotional toll remains a danger, Muska said.
“A lot of them have suffered some type of post-traumatic stress of some sort,” Muska told the Associated Press. “I am definitely concerned. We are not going to lose sight of that.”
Texas investigators have found that as many as 34 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in fertilizer, were ignited by the blast. What started the fire remains unknown, however. Nor is it clear whether the firefighters knew how much danger they faced when went to fight the blaze.
The state fire marshal's office has said it expects to release a report on first responders' deaths later this month.