West, TX’s Recovery Status a Decade After Devastating Explosion

Ten years have passed since the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant in Texas, yet it remains etched in the memories of many residents. Robby Payne, a volunteer firefighter since 1986, has chosen to avoid passing through the field where the plant once stood. \”It\’s difficult to reflect on,\” he says. However, he did visit the field recently to pay his respects to the 12 first responders who lost their lives while trying to help the community. Payne almost joined them, but for a chance decision that altered the course of his life.

On April 17, 2013, a fire call to the plant became an emergency of unimaginable proportions. Payne was one of many firefighters who rushed to the scene, expecting to battle a massive fire. As they evaluated the situation, the explosion occurred. The blast created a shockwave that was felt for miles, leaving a 93-foot-wide crater where the plant once stood. The disaster severely damaged around 150 offsite buildings, including schools, homes, and a nursing home, killing 15 people, of which 12 were first responders.

At the moment of the explosion, Payne was behind a fire truck making sure his equipment was correctly secured when 30 tons of ammonium nitrate erupted. The blast atmosphere was equivalent to 20,000-40,000 pounds of TNT igniting and crushed the front of the truck. Payne was blown back into a molasses tank at the plant, but the vehicle absorbed most of the damage, allowing Payne to survive. He was hospitalized with multiple injuries, and it was only 48 hours later that he learned of his friends\’ and colleagues\’ death. Payne\’s business, the Aderhold Funeral Home, was also tasked with handling 10 of the victims\’ services, adding to his trauma.

Misty Lambert, a resident who lived 450 feet west of the plant, experienced the disaster firsthand. She was having dinner with her son and a friend when she noticed the fire and decided to evacuate. As she peered out of her back window one last time, the blast occurred, burying her and her companions under bricks and debris. Her injuries were horrific, with deep cuts to her face, chest, and arms caused by shards of glass. Despite being pinned down, she remained conscious and screamed to attract attention until help arrived. They were extracted over an hour later and rushed to the football field for urgent medical attention.

Despite the passage of a decade, the aftermath of the explosion lingers on. Payne, who survived against the odds, suffers from survivor’s guilt to this day. Lambert bears the physical and emotional scars that serve as constant reminders of the tragedy and its impact on her life and family. Eddie Hykel, another firefighter who was injured in the explosion, remained dedicated to his work until the day he died, ten years later, in a car crash. He was one of the many heroes who risked their lives to save others and who will never be forgotten in West.

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