Texas is made up of 254 counties and thousands of small towns that most Texans know for some reason or another, if not for simply “passing through.” The city of West, Texas is about 120 miles north of Austin, where I currently live. The annual West Fest, with its German beer and polka music, and the Interstate-35 Czech Stop, with the best kolaches, are well-known across the Lone Star State.
I grew up in another one of those rural Texas towns – about 50 miles northeast of West – and people actually heard and felt the fertilizer plant explosion on the outskirts of town. For perspective, the explosion registered at a magnitude of 2.1, and ammonium nitrate, which caused the explosion, is the same substance included in a homemade bomb by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City Albert P. Murrah Federal Building bombing – 18 years ago today.
Ironically, the ammonium nitrate causing the explosion may have been formed from a deadly chemical reaction between the company’s 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, the firefighters’ water as they tried to squelch the flames of the burning plant, and other strangely unique events. Dozens of homes were destroyed, 160 people were injured with Waco-area hospitals triaging and treating in unison, and at least 14 people have died – with the count climbing as many are still unaccounted. Numerous first responders are among the dead.
I heard a student nurse from the town tell a television reporter about how she helped others set up the morgue at the community center. I am both proud and sorrowful for her – that she clearly is in the right profession, to act swiftly and professionally in times of crisis, humbly serving her community – but also that one of her early nursing memories will be this one – triaging the dead, whom she likely knew. Her voice cracked in the interview, and her eyes watered. The camera cut away; I shed tears with her.
This week has been particularly difficult with Boston, now West, and numerous other miscellaneous serious news-worthy events. Moments like these are not easy, and I find myself thinking of how much more it is magnified by the lens of being a small, Texas town. I drift to thinking of my small hometown – how close-knit the community is and how everyone pitches in to help and how one part of the town impacts everything else. I see West passing my mind’s eye as I drive past the town on my way to visit family and friends. I hear the laughter of friends as they talk about the West Fest polka music or Polka Run.
Yes. I can’t help but think of West.