It was five years ago this week that a giant explosion ripped apart the tiny Texas town of West, which is still struggling to emotionally and spiritually recover, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.
"For some, it will be a journey that they will be on the rest of their lives," Pastor John Crowder says.
A fire that was intentionally set at the West Fertilizer Company storage triggered an ammonium nitrate explosion on April 17, 2013. The blast killed 15 people and more than 150 homes were damaged or destroyed.
Pastor Crowder says, visitors to the area would not be able to tell that anything happened. The final straw in the physical recovery was the erection of a new water tower, about six weeks ago.
"Most of us in town see that as the signal that we completed the physical recovery," he explains.
In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, the town's population literally doubled, thanks to the 3,000 first responders who flooded the area from all over the state. Pastor Crowder is quick to say that the physical recovery could have happened this fast if it were not for Texans helping other Texans.
"I'm excited that we've been able to accomplish so much in five years," he says. "Remember, we're talking about one-fourth of our town was destroyed.
While the fire that started the blast was ruled arson, it's still unclear who set it off. The plant itself had a long history of minor problems. The last inspection by OSHA was in 1985. The owners were fined $30 for improper storage of anhydrous ammonia.
In 2006, a small of ammonia triggered a complaint to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which led to a $5,250 fine for violations.
In the last filing with the EPA in 2012, owners reported that 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and 110,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia were being stored on the site.
A $50,000 reward remains unclaimed. Meanwhile, roads have been rebuilt. A new school is open. A new senior home is as bustling as a retirement home can be.
Pastor Crowder says there is a new motto in town. "Grit and greatness."
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