What About West, Texas?

My heart breaks for the community of West, Texas.

While the media endlessly looped their limited information on the manhunt of the remaining Boston Bombing suspect to the exclusion of all else on Friday,  I kept thinking — what about the explosion in West, Texas? What’s happening there? How is that small rural town coping with all the devastation and loss?  And why — so many whys.  Why did it happen?  Why was a fertilizer plant within the town?  Why was it next to a school, and an apartment building, a nursing home and so many homes?

But Friday all eyes were on Watertown, MA.  Every where I went the conversations, newspapers, televisions, the internet were focused on the manhunt.  This morning, with the suspect finally in custody to the relief of Boston and the nation, the media seems to have finally remember the fertilizer plant explosion that hit West, Texas Wednesday night.

west-texas
Credit: Tony Gutierrez/AP(via NPR)

For a town of 2,800 the personal impacts are multiple and devastating.

  • 14 dead including five volunteer firefighters from the town of West, four paramedics, a retired firefighter and a Dallas fire captain who lived in West
  •  200 people injured
  •  35-60 (estimated) missing
  •  uncounted number of pets and wildlife – dead or injured
  • 50-80 homes and business destroyed
  • untold number of vehicles destroyed including 3 fire trucks

The list goes on and on.  But the people of West are resilient and the community thankful the numbers of dead and injured weren’t worse.  KERA News has personal interviews with residents who experienced the blast, are dealing with the aftermath, and if you would like to help  — a list of organizations and best ways to to help West, Texas.

There has been no official determination of cause, as yet.  Whether the blast, which registered as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake, was an industrial accident or something more sinister, the visuals and reality of the destruction to the town of West are horrific.

Credit: facebook.com/Texas Attorney General (via StateImpact)

Unfortunately, the whys of how a fertilizer plant that handles and stores highly explosive and toxic materials came to reside so companionably beside a town jeopardizing the lives and livelihood of many of it’s citizen is predictable of many fast growing communities across the US and telling of competing land use interests and rights, government inaction and conversely too many underfunded and undermanned agencies, citizen complacency, overly causal assumptions of known risks, money, jobs … As with most things in life it’s both simple and complicated.

While the town of West, Texas is grieving and breathing a sigh of relief that a worse case scenario didn’t happened, no doubt they are consumed by the endless what ifs. What if the explosion had happened during school hours at a time when many of the students were outdoors? What if the hospital was just a few blocks closer to the blast? What if …

The town of West, Texas will now have the opportunity to rebuild without the West Fertilizer Company as an intimate neighbor. Will the citizens reevaluate their risk assumptions? Will they demand a safer community? Or will they and the rest of us shrug off the death and destruction in West, Texas as an aberration?

I wish I felt confident that we’ll learn our lessons from the West, Texas explosion. But my fear is that we will just continue to bet on Lady Luck.

 

4 Comments

  1. Living in a small rural community myself, I see the answers to this tragedy paralleling my own environment. I live within reach a large “clean coal” (sorry I’m choking here) power plant. I can see the stacks in the distance every time I walk out my front door. The jobs keep our community solvent and believe me, they pay well. The cancer rate is incredibly high here but locals say they’re “down winders” and that’s the reason. When ever coal mining comes under fire from the government our town literally starts talking about taking up arms against the government. They worship their paychecks and believe the bull crap spewed. So I look at West Texas and see a similar community, trying to make ends meet and turning a blind eye to the dangers of the fertilizer plant because… it’s all they’ve ever known. Think of it as brainwashing. This doesn’t take away my heartfelt sadness for their tragedy but I totally understand how it happened just not the original why of the placement.

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    1. Agree with you Suzie. I think this is an almost universal problem even in big cities. Especially where there is fast growth. We now have a chemical distributor in a high density neighborhood that has had leaks requiring evacuations, and a train that crosses through our city and some of the “best” neighborhoods carrying highly toxic chemicals. I do think people mistakenly comfort themselves with the idea that the city, county, state would somehow protect them IF there was real danger.

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  2. I agree with how sad it is that the media shoved this tragic story aside. You hit upon a lot of points that my husband and I were discussing: namely the greed that seems to permeate most consturction-development decisions these days (“Hey- cheap land next to the fertilizer plant. We’ll get it for a bargain, and come up withe brilliant idea to put housing on it!”). And, also, the lack of responsibility of policymakers, who thought it was OK to approve such planning…

    I couldn’t agree more with Suzie above – because my very rural Arizona town faces the SAME conundrum, only replace “clean coal” with “copper mining.”

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    1. “… the lack of responsibility of policymakers, who thought it was OK to approve such planning…”

      Exactly!

      ProPublica has a great article presenting a lot of the issues regarding regulation and oversight. http://www.propublica.org/article/what-went-wrong-in-west-texas-and-where-were-the-regulators

      According to a city council member who was also on the school board, that water and sewer lines already existed there for the fertilizer plant and made the land attractive for development. THE ISSUE OF SAFETY NEVER EVEN CAME UP when considering to approve the housing, apartments and school so close to the fertilizer plant.

      The mind boggles. How could it not? Isn’t the point of having a city council or a school board to protect the best interest of the community?

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