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‘They Want To Be Normal:’ Dallas Writer Who Grew Up In West Reflects On His Hometown

Doualy Xaykaothao
"Everybody I talked to -- they seem like they’ve bounced back," Zac Crain with D Magazine says about West. He grew up in the small town, which was rocked by a fertilizer plant explosion in April 2013.";

D Magazine’s Zac Crain is Facebook friends with practically half the town of West. He grew up just 500 yards from the fertilizer plant that exploded a year ago. He talked with KERA about life after the explosion. “It worried me that it was a town that could die out," he said. Crain reflected on the townthe morning after the explosion. (Here's an expanded version.) Crain also profiled the town for D in July.

Interview Highlights: Zac Crain on ...

… the injuries following the explosion: “The most amazing thing to me was when I was walking around and talking to people … how many near misses there were. There were a lot of people ... people on the corner, the woman who is blind and her husband is blind in one eye. There are a lot of other injuries beyond the deaths. And people who still need help.”

… the West mayor: “Tommy Muska, the mayor, I’ve known him forever. He’d come in and bring in a couple of boxes of kolaches to remind everybody that Westfest was coming up. And I’d talk with him for a few minutes. ... To see how strong he was and how when crisis came through, that was amazing to see. ...  He’s hanging in there. I think everybody is.”

… the world focusing on West: “It’s a crazily small town. Every time I bring it up to people and [they say] ‘I grew up in a small town, too,’ they always say 15,000 people. Well I say ‘My town is smaller than 3,000.’ It was crazy to see everyone in the world at least for a day or two focusing on West. I never ever imaged that would happen.

… West today: “Everybody had troubles getting over what had happened. They put a brave face on in the beginning. Things are better now. But in the middle part, where they were struggling with insurance companies and whether they’d get the money to rebuild and they’d been away from their homes for months at a time. I think everyone had their darker moments – it’s natural. Everybody I talked to -- they seem like they’ve bounced back.”

… his hopes for West: “I have the same hopes they do that everything is the same -- that’s what they want. They just want a house like they had and stuff like they had and life like they had. I think they want to be normal. I feel like it’s getting that way. After a few months when it looked like they weren’t going to get FEMA money and some of the other stuff they needed to repair the infrastructure – schools, sewer lines, streets. It worried me that it could be a town that could die out. It seems like it’s pointed in that direction of just getting normal again. That’s all I want for them, just to have the life they had before.”

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.
Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.