The Commerce Journal

Local News

April 19, 2013

Plant explosion rattled the landscape like an approaching storm

Fertilizer plant blast was felt, heard more than 50 miles away

WEST, Texas — The explosion at a fertilizer plant that rocked this small Texas city shook the earth, shattered windows and blew down doors for miles around. People more than 50 miles away said they felt and heard Wednesday night’s blast.

“It was just a little smoke at first, some flames,” said Dennis Kolar, who was eating dinner with his wife, Linda, in a restaurant about a mile and a half from West Fertilizer Co. Then, “the whole town shook,” as the blast sent embers and debris flying in all directions.

“There were flames shooting into the air, huge mushroom clouds. And there were bodies everywhere, blood,” said Kolar. “A lot of houses were just leveled, some of them burned to the ground.”

The worst part, he said, was “there was nobody to respond.” The emergency workers who typically would be there to help had been called to a fire at the plant before the explosion. In fact, some died in the blast, while others are still missing.

The blast ripped apart buildings including houses, an apartment building, a school and a nursing home. Officials initially reported a death toll up to 15 people, with more than 160 others wounded, but backed away from those estimates Thursday afternoon, refusing to elaborate.

Kolar, 51, said he and his wife tried to help in the aftermath, but they and others were rebuffed by dense smoke and searing chemical fumes. They are now offering a comfort station at their tire and lube shop on the other side of town - showers, a bathroom, a television and barbecue for those who need it.

Audrey Todd was visiting her mother about 10 minutes away, in Ross, Texas, when a neighbor called to tell her about the explosion.

She returned home, taking back ways because the main roads were blocked. She loaded some belongings and drove away, but not before stopping at an overpass to witness a “sea of red and blue” from the emergency lights of fire trucks, ambulances and police cars.

Though her home had been spared the initial blast, Todd has since worried about reports of a chemical tank that might be compromised. “If that one blows, it will take the rest of West with it,” she said. “There won’t be anything left.”

Ryan Janek and his family were nearer to the explosion. They’d just settled in for the evening, in their home less than a mile from the plant, when they felt the explosion that Janek at first thought was an approaching storm.

The first waves were like a vibration, or “buzzing,” he said, but what followed seconds later proved far more serious. The back door caved inward, he said. A couple of seconds later, the front door exploded off its hinges. Shock waves blew out east-facing windows, he said, including ones in the children’s play room. Fortunately, his children were in the living room at the time.

The family retreated to the laundry room — the “safe room” in their house — and prayed. “I thought that maybe the house had taken a lightening hit,” said Janek.

He waited a few minutes to walk outside and assess the situation, where he saw several neighbors doing the same. A plume of smoke to the east made it clear it wasn’t a storm that had rocked the house.

Janek took his family to his brother’s house a few miles away. He and his brother, a Dallas firefighter, then returned to the West community center with generators and gasoline to help provide power in  case of an outage.

“We’re very blessed,” he said. “You just don’t know if your house was a couple of blocks closer, what the outcome would be. … We’re very fortunate our little ones are running around this morning.”

---

Details for this story were reported by the Corsicana Daily Sun, the Cleburne Times Review and The Associated Press.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • University to host Korean Consul-General

    Texas A&M University-Commerce will host a distinguished international politician today as former ambassador and Consul-General of the Republic of Korea Suk-Bum Park visits the campus.

    April 15, 2014

  • CR 1081 Damage 2.jpg Storm damages Hunt County

    Although Commerce was not struck by the series of tornadoes that occurred on April 3, it bore much of the impact of the severe weather caused by the storm cell. 

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Food pantry assists the ‘working poor’

    When Bread of Life Church of the Nazarene took over a monthly food pantry from Word of Life Church in Commerce, Pastor Jan Wilton told members of the Commerce Lions Club she felt a need to help the Commerce community.

    April 9, 2014

  • CR 1081 Damage 2.jpg Tornado bigger than first thought

    Additional details were released Monday about the size and intensity of last week’s tornado which struck northern Hunt County.

    April 8, 2014 2 Photos

  • Drumming up some fun

    Have you ever wondered what it takes to be part of a drum line at a university?

    April 3, 2014

  • Teachers honored at Commerce board meeting

    The Commerce ISD Board of Trustees held open session on March 20 to recognize the achievements of the Commerce ISD Campus Teachers of the Year, as well as discuss the potential offering of non-core classes to students not enrolled in the district.

    April 1, 2014

  • Environmental project to beautify park

    As the drought continues in Texas, water conservation is a hot topic.

    March 31, 2014

  • Organization revamps Commerce Animal Shelter

    No-kill is love, according to Jennifer Caves.

    March 29, 2014

  • Annual Boots & BBQ set for April

    Tickets are on sale for the annual Boots & BBQ celebration and fundraiser hosted by the Commerce Schools Educational Enrichment Foundation. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 12 at Commerce High School.

    March 27, 2014

  • Trespassing on A&M-Commerce property

    Some Commerce residents tried living the college life, without attending college.

    March 27, 2014

Featured Ads

Poll

What should be new A&M-C women's basketball coach Jason Burton's goals for the 2014-15 season?

Winning 10 games
Winning and LSC tournament game
His focus should be on recruiting/building the team, rather than immediate success
     View Results
Must Read
Facebook
AP Video
Tributes Mark Boston Bombing Anniversary Raw: Kan. Shooting Suspect Faces Judge US Supports Ukraine's Efforts to Calm Tensions Suspect in Kansas Shootings Faces Murder Charges Ukraine: Military Recaptures Eastern Airport Raw: Storm Topples RVs Near Miss. Gulf Coast NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse Pistorius Cries During Final Cross-Examination The Boston Marathon Bombing: One Year Later Michael Phelps Set to Come Out of Retirement First Women Move to Army Platoon Artillery Jobs Sex Offenders Charged in Serial Killings Police: Woman Stored Dead Babies in Garage OC Serial Murder Suspects May Have More Victims Family: 2 Shot in Head at Kan. Jewish Center Raw: Horse Jumping Inspires 'Bunny Hop' After Attack, Officials Kill 5 Bears in Florida Popular Science Honors Year's Top Inventions ND Oil Boom Attracting Drug Traffickers
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide