Saturday, April 20, 2013

OSG High: West, Texas... With The Comma

When Interstate 35 west winds its way, for those travelling that way, toward the merger with I-35 it's near the town of Hillsboro, Texas. The towns click off every ten miles or so- Alvarado, Itasca, Hillsboro, and then, West. A lot of people are genuinely confused over the name. But the first postmaster of the town of 2,800 in McLennan County was a guy by the name of T.M. West.

Thus, the name... and it has nothing to do with direction or time and place...

Everyone knows now that the death toll in a catastrophic mill explosion is now 14 with dozens still listed as missing- 7 fatalities from volunteer fire departments inside the state.

“It is by far one of, if not the worst, (disasters) we have seen in the state of Texas,” said Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner.

There will be regulatory issues and safety issues that will come up over the next while over the West plant- especially after the idea that those who ran the plant maintained that there would never be any kind of catastrophic event like the one that happened. It would only be a ten second release of ammonia gas- and that would be it.

But it wasn't... and it won't be for a while...

It's a part of the state where, if drivers don't like the traffic pattern, they'll high-step their cars and trucks over the grass medians and plow over to the roads that run parallel to the freeway. It's a part of the state also known as much for its Czech influence. There are restaurants in Hillsboro and in West where you can pick up a mean kolache and, now, they're places for remembering who is gone and who remains.

Buildings have been obliterated... and I don't even think that is giving the word justice. Schools in the blast zone are not safe and superintendents have had to give advice from all around the state to figure out how to make the last month of school... "normal..."

Students will resume classes on Monday. Some students will start their new lives in neighboring Connally ISD, while some students will go to West Elementary School, which Crawford said was the only campus not affected by the explosion...

Translation... "the only school left standing where we feel safe putting people."

Everyone short of 6th grade goes there. The middle and high schoolers go to an abandoned school in Connally.

“Our goal for the next 30 days is to make sure (students) have a great experience, that we could put back a little normalcy and consistency in the kids’ lives,” West ISD Superintendent Marty Crawford said.

And the kids had to try...

The calm at Hillsboro High. Thoughts are still 15 miles south.
In Hillsboro, the Eagles were set to play a double-header against Burnsville-Eddy Friday. The JV game went by the boards and the two schools were set to play one game in the newly-constructed softball and baseball stands. Their number one fan, who was there way too early for first pitch was asked the simple question of "How are you doin'...?"

"We're here..."

And that sums up the mood of the whole region...

Over at the county fairgrounds, kids from fraternities and sororities made their way from Baylor to help unload trucks and cram everything they got from 18-wheelers into cardboard boxes and get them to West as soon as they could.

"We're more organized now than we were at the beginning," one Phi Chi told me. "If a truck comes in and it's a fork-lift truck, we really can't do anything. But if it was hand-packed, you see what we're able to do."

And that translated into about 20 college students moving around to fill boxes on four hour shifts waiting for the next group to take over.

"There are three different fraternities here," he continued. "No one cared what frat you were when you showed up. And that's not always necessarily the case."

Justin Lewis came to the fairgrounds in a blue blazer, white dress shirt, and beige power tie complete with blue jeans and boots. He seemed to be the one orchestrating what needed to be put where and how quickly. His day job is that of a Hill County judge, but his focus was on turning around every gifted piece of aid and getting it to West.

The Hill County Fairgrounds- where Baylor came to help
"We've got a Wal-Mart's worth of material," he admitted as the pile grew behind him. "Places like H.E.B. (a local department store chain) and Farmers are helping out with their trucks. And our job is to sort, inventory, re-box and be a distribution point. If someone calls and says 'I need toilet paper,' then I can go 'Okay, we'll get you a palette.' If someone calls and says, 'I need clothes.' Then, we can go 'Okay, we'll get you a palette of that.' and so on... That's what we're doing here."

But, it's not all optimism. You get the sense, though, that the work is keeping him from focusing on what he lost.

"It's bad. Real bad... it's ugly down there" and all he could do is look down and shake his head briefly before regaining focus on the job he and everyone else in the fairgrounds was working on. "I've lost friends and I can't find others. But, right now, we're running on adrenaline. They're family. And that's what you do..."

And the 18-wheelers just kept coming... a good thing for everyone- those who needed it to get their lives back on track and for those who needed to help so they could regain a part of theirs.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent story. My heart weeps for the people of West, Texas and neighboring communities.