KJT

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West Tragedy (cont)

The doors and windows rattled and it seemed like the walls shook.   Robert was on a long distance phone call – I ran outside and around to the back of the house and saw the mushroom cloud.  It looked like it was coming towards us.  (I wish I had taken pictures, but I was overwhelmed).  It was a very eerie sight and feeling.  We both stood watching for a moment and realized it must have been at the Fertilizer Co.   Then we realized if we felt it here – wonder what it felt like in town.   Our son, daughter-in-law and grandsons live at the edge of Corsicana, and they felt and heard it.  They live about 50 miles as the crow flies, from West Fertilizer, and about 60 miles from our home.  Our neighbor from across the road came and asked if we would help secure her nephew’s window that was blown out.  He and his wife have a double-wide mobile home and the front window got blown out.  They had immediately left after the explosion, to check on his brothers who lived close to the explosion.  They were ok, but they did as many other people in the hard hit area – walked away with only the clothes they had on.  Purses, wallets, and other valuables were left behind as they hurried to get out of the area.

We secured the window as best as we could and decided to go into town.  The road into West was like IH-35 in holiday traffic – bumper-to-bumper as many Fire Dept. and EMS from other cities were coming in to help. . . also lots of people.  Our son-in-law Louis’s mother lives on the West side of IH-35, north of the explosion site, so we decided to go there.  Our daughter, Sherry had called that they were going there.  We had to take the back roads to get to her house.  The Interstate and service roads all seemed to be at a standstill.  I’m not sure if this is true, but some people said that some cars were blown off the road.  Louis’s mother, Lil Pavlas, was visibly shaken – as were all of us.  Her patio door in her garage had been blown in – but did not break. Her garage door was dented in.  She had a light fixture fall in her dining room and pictures fell from the walls.  Lil told us that right before the explosion, she was sitting on her couch reading a book.  All of a sudden, she had a weird feeling that from her waist down, her legs seem to be moving.    She put her book down and watched, but it seemed to have stopped and then a few seconds later the explosion occurred.   She wasn’t sure if it was an underground tremor, or some sort of warning before the explosion. She said then her sister-in-law, Willie called her.  She was so thankful that she had called, because she didn’t know what happened, but she was scared.  She thought something had hit her house, or someone was breaking in.   Lil went to spend the night with our son-in-law, daughter and grandsons.   Also everyone was concerned about the fumes that came from the fire.   The next day our grandsons, Brent and Travis, didn’t have school, so they went with her to help her clean up.  There was a lot of glass everywhere.

When we got back to our house, we turned on the TV and got to see what was going on.  They were evacuating the residents of the Rest Home and the Apartment Complex and others who lived in the area on to the Football Field.  But then they had to take the people to the south side of town to the West Community Center because of the fire, they thought there may be another explosion and also because of the fumes from the fire.  But luckily, the second explosion didn’t occur.  That night we received many phone calls from family and friends, making sure we were ok.  We went to bed way after midnight, but didn’t sleep much.  The next morning, Thursday, we received more phone calls and throughout the day.  It was such a good feeling that so many people cared.  

The news of the casualties of the Fire Fighters started coming in.  At first they would only say they were missing. We wondered if they would even find their bodies.  When they came out with the names, 15 in all lost their lives, we knew several of them.  Many of them went to our church, were involved with Westfest, or through Robert’s work.   We were saddened to hear this – we knew their families.

There were many, many people, businesses, and restaurants that brought in bottled water, food, and other supplies.  The West Community Center, the VFW Hall, the St. Joseph Hall, the Westfest grounds were all covered with people bringing food and supplies to the community, and setting up hot meals for everyone.  Also the contributions have been overwhelming.  I saw where the people from the Czech Republic were sending money.   Also people all over the world were sending their regards.  Baylor University had a wonderful memorial service at the Ferrell Center on Thursday, April 25.  It was a very solemn and very impressive memorial service.   The Governor of Texas and the President of the United States were in attendance.  They also stated that the President was late because he was coming from the dedication of the Bush Library and had circled around West to see the damages.  Also after the service was over, he stayed and visited with the families of the deceased Fire Fighters.

A sad part to all this now is the “landmark” buildings that were damaged, most of them beyond repair. The West Fertilizer Plant was there before a lot of the buildings and residential areas were developed. One such building is the West Rest Haven (Rest Home).  It was considered one of the best in this area.  They had a lot of activities for the residents and the people felt at home.  We knew a lot of people in the West Rest Haven.  One of them was our long time KJT member, Mr. Joe Mynarcik.  Just three days before the explosion, his son and daughter brought him and his wife, Margie, to the West KJT Society #31 meeting so he could receive his 75 year membership pin.  We were so glad to have them.  He always attended a lot of our local meeting before he went into the Rest Home.  After the explosion, the residents were sent to Bellmead, Waco, Mart, Hillsboro, and some as far away as Clifton.  As of right now, we do not know where the Mynarciks are. 

Other buildings were the schools.  My husband and children all graduated from the old West High School.  Since they went to St. Mary’s Catholic School they did not go to the Middle or Intermediate Schools.  The only campus that wasn’t damaged is the Elementary School.  And the Grand Prairie School District gave the district some portable buildings to use so the 6th graders can stay in West.  Our grandson, Brent went to the new West High School.   It was a fairly new school, built in the shape of a “W”.  Right now all the students from grade 7 thru 12 are being bused to Connally High School in Waco.   They were generous to give them a building to use as classrooms.  And they have been so wonderful to the students of West, twice or more handing out goody bags to all the students.  The students only go to school from 8:30 to 1:30, making it hard on some parents getting them to and from school.  I guess it’s good that they only have about a month of school left.

Also the halls in West were damaged.  The Lone Star Hall and Sokol Halls both received a lot of damage.  We don’t know if they can be repaired or not.  But the one we know about is the West Fraternal Auditorium.  This hall was a beautiful place and had many functions, many weddings, lots of polka bands and dances.  Our daughter had her wedding reception there, and we had our 25th Anniversary party there.  This place was special to us because we were involved with it as it was being built.  We saw it built from the ground up.  We were also building our home at the same time, and moved in the same year West Fraternal opened its doors, in 1976.  We were there at the opening celebrations and at most all the anniversary dinners.  Of course, a year ago, they had to close the doors and sell out the contents to pay the bills.  Dances aren’t as popular as they use to be, and it was hard to get any help to keep the doors open.  After the explosion, the roof and air conditioner fell on the dining & kitchen area.  Just this past Sunday, April 28, the rest of the roof collapsed, bringing down the huge trusses that surrounded the dance area and splintered the big columns that helped hold the building.  It’s so sad to see this go down.

The people in the areas hardest hit by the explosion were able to go into their home this past weekend, April 27 and 28.  Of course, there is a lot of sadness.  A lot of people are elderly or retired or young and settled down and never imagined that they would have to worry about where they will live.  As they are going through their belongings, they are also finding some miracles.  A lot of people have stated that all the pictures, paintings, mirrors, etc. that were on their walls had fallen, except for the crosses.  Some had walls of crosses that were not broken or moved.  One lady had an angel collection in a cabinet.  Everything was broken, but the angels were not.  I do believe that Jesus Christ was in West that night.  As everyone probably heard, it could have been a bigger explosion if a lot of the fertilizer was not hauled out, due to spring planting and a forecast of rain coming that next morning.  I heard tons of fertilizer went out just a day before.  It was lucky, it happened at that time of night, where families were together, and not at school or work.  Out of all of this, I am sure more miracles will surface.  A picture has been circulating on e-mail taken during the explosion that shows a cross on the back window of a vehicle and to the left in the explosion cloud, an image of Christ. (I am including the picture)  I am convinced that Jesus Christ was in West that night.

The devastation of the homes in the north end of West is unimaginable.  Driving through will leave a person in shock, especially, seeing the Rest Home.  It’s a miracle that all the residents got out alive.  We hear all kind of rumors going around.  Someone said that they heard that the Rest Home did not have enough wheelchairs for all the residents - - that night they had enough wheelchairs to get the residents out.  West has always been known as a friendly, small Czech town with a lot of Kolache Bakeries.  The important part, even though 15 lives were lost by the first responders, and numerous injuries, is that West has the determination to rebuild and come back stronger than ever.

Our Catholic Church of the Assumption and St. Mary’s School were not damaged.  But two churches in the hardest hit area were damaged.  I am not sure how bad.  The West Brethren Church and the First Baptist Church was damaged.  The Baptist Church held their Sunday services in the field close to the West Community Center.  The majority of the funeral services are being held in our Catholic Church.  It is the largest church in West.  A lot of the services were conducted by our own, Father Ed Karasek, with help from Father Boniface Onjefu, Monsignor Isadore Ruzucki, and newly ordained Deacon, Ronnie Sykora.   Also, through the generosity of a parishioner, Father Anthony Odiong, who is studying in Rome, Italy, was able to come back to West and help.  We know that Father Ed and the church “secretaries” have been overwhelmed with phone calls.   Our thoughts and prayers are with Father Ed and the clergy, and his helpers.  They comforted many, many people.

Yes, we can all say an extra prayer to thank Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for being present and among us on that fateful night, April 17, 2013 in West, Texas. 

 

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