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Marking The One-Year Anniversary Of The West Explosion

Joe Berti
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the fertilizer plant explosion in West.

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the day when West, Texas, changed forever. A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant rocked the small town in McLennan County, killing 15 people, including 12 volunteer firefighters, and injuring more than 200.

A memorial service, called West 4-17 Forever Forward, takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the West Fair and Rodeo Grounds. A moment of silence will be observed at 7:51 p.m., marking the time of the explosion.

KERA’s Doualy Xaykaothao sat down with D Magazine’s Zac Crain, who is Facebook friends with just about half the city, and grew up just 500 yards from the fertilizer plant. He talked 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.

Read highlights of Doualy's interview here.

The Associated Press reports that local officials are considering building a new fertilizer plant. West Mayor Tommy Muska acknowledged Thursday that the idea is highly controversial among local residents. But he notes that his central Texas town's economy revolved around the West Fertilizer Co. before the facility was leveled by a fire and explosion. He also says that "unfortunately or fortunately" more people outside the region are now aware of the town, which has brought some economic opportunity. Muska says he is negotiating with a flag manufacturer and a recycling company to set up operations in West.
KERA's Doualy Xaykaothao attended a news conference featuring Muska. “Today is a hard day for all of us," Muska said. "We remember those fallen, but we also have a fantastic story of rebuilding this town.” Here's the story that Doualy filed from West Thursday afternoon:

The KERA Radio story: The scene from the town of West, one year after the explosion.

NPR’s Wade Goodwyn recently visited West. “The widespread destruction in the town has raised questions about what, if any, new state laws should be passed to ensure that another chemical plant doesn't explode where people live,” Goodwyn reported.

Shortly after the blast, KERA’s Courtney Collins reported on nursing home employees who shielded their residents from the blast and pulled people from the rubble. She also wrote about her impressions of the town. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the people of West and their love for life and one another since I left there Thursday afternoon. The explosion at the fertilizer plant rocked the entire town. People were killed and injured. Homes were shattered. Residents lost their jobs and everything they owned. But that cold reality is clearly no match for the stunning warmth of spirit that colors the community.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry authorized an additional $4.85 million to help West recover from the explosion. The money will help fix city water infrastructure damaged in the explosion. KUT, Austin’s public radio station, has more.

Here’s a roundup of anniversary coverage:

  • The Waco Herald-Tribune: A year after plant explosion, West gets back in the game

  • CNN: 'A special place': Texas town tighter than ever 1 year after fatal fertilizer plant blast

  • The Dallas Morning News: Official toll overlooks many injuries

  • The Dallas Morning News: A year after blast, West's rebuilding is a work in progress
  • Fort Worth Star-Telegram: A year later, the healing continues in West
  • WFAA-TV: New video of West explosion shows power of blast

Here’s earlier KERA coverage:

Investigators talk about the explosion.

Construction crews work to get students back to school.

KERA’s BJ Austin discussed the explosion with the PBS Newshour:

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.
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.