A peaceful night in the small Texas town of West became a tragic, chaotic night when a fertilizer plant exploded one year ago today.
The full scope of the damage wasn’t seen until the following morning, when entire buildings were leveled. Schools were destroyed. When it was all said and done, fifteen people were killed.
The town is still recovering. On Wednesday, Governor Rick Perry gave the town an additional $4.85 million in state disaster grants to rebuild infrastructure, including water tanks and sewer lines.
The funding is the second installment that comes from $10 million the state Legislature appropriated to the town last year. West got $3.2 million from the appropriation last August, and the remaining $2 million will go to schools.
The city and the school district will be closed for the day — a one-time occurrence for the first anniversary. There will be a ceremony at 7:30 p.m. at the Westfest grounds, where the town holds its annual festival to remember those that died.
And as for what caused the explosion, there are still more questions than answers.
Though the cause of the initial fire is still a mystery, chemist Kurt Kosted believes wind was the real culprit, carrying smoke from that ammonium nitrate fire up to power lines.
He says the high voltage transmission lines arced and that the smoke actually became so chemically and electronically charged that the smoke itself exploded causing the first explosion.
But today is not about finding answers. It’s about remembering those that lost their lives. West Mayor Tommy Muska says the people of West are recovering as best as they can, but the anniversary will be difficult.
“All of a sudden the day comes along, the scab is going to break and it’s going to bleed and it’s going to hurt some more,” Muska said. “That’s pretty much the definition of grief.”