WEST, TEXAS— President Obama visited the central Texas town of West, where a massive explosion last week killed 14 people, injured 200 and destroyed or heavily damaged around half of the homes. Even as they grieve, people in the town are working to restore their houses and their lives.
The funeral procession was made up mostly of fire trucks and passed under a giant American flag. It's the first funeral of many to come in this Texas town and is for volunteer fireman Kenneth Harris. He died trying to stop the blaze that preceded the explosion at the West fertilizer plant.
The explosion on April 18 was so powerful that it registered it as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake. It collapsed an apartment complex and destroyed homes in a five-block radius.
Although most residents survived with no injuries, almost everyone in this close-knit community knew someone who died, was injured or lost a home.
Dorothy Zahirniak barely survived but lost her home. “When I heard the blast, I thought 'My God, what was that?' and then the ceiling fell down on me,” Zahiriniak said.
Even outside the main blast zone, many houses suffered structural damage. Homeowners have hired contractors to help remove furniture and other items that can be salvaged.
Most residents who were displaced are with relatives in the area, but the local Veterans of Foreign Wars offered shelter.
“We set up a shelter and we are accepting donations of clothing, food, household items and monetary funds to help rebuild the city. We are assisting residents with distribution of said items. We are serving three meals a day,” said Bobby Jones, who is with the local VFW chapter.
The food often consists of Texas favorites like Mexican burritos and barbecue.
The barbecue is Texas-style, prepared in a big smoker operated by volunteers from Operation Barbecue Relief.
Bryan McClarty assembled the team and brought the food.
“We have got people from all over the state of Texas down here to help them. All they need is just a little bit of comfort and time right now, in need, and they will be just fine,” he said.
Most people here are of Czech descent and take pride in their heritage.
As the investigation continues into what caused the explosion, residents are making plans to rebuild and recover.