West residents still uncertain of home, fellow community members' fate


B.J. Walters, his grandma Joyce Rucker and dog Pepe are temporarily staying at the First Baptist Church in Gholson, about 10 minutes east of West, after an explosion at a fertilizer plant occured near their home on Wednesday. Fifty to 60 homes were reportedly destroyed in the explosion, and the Walters family are unsure of the fate of their home. Many local businesses, schools and churches in the area have opened their doors to anyone who needs shelter or assistance.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

WEST — Resident of West, B.J. Walters is sitting on an air mattress in the First Baptist Church of Gholson with his dog Pepe and his grandmother Joyce Rucker at 3:57 a.m. on Thursday when he says "nothing bad ever happens in West."

"The worst thing that happens in West is somebody gets too drunk," Walters said. "That's the worst thing that happens in West."

But Wednesday evening, something bad did happen in West. Walters, 23, had evacuated from his home in West after an explosion at a fertilizer plant killed several people, caused immediate damage to nearby buildings and resulted in evacuations. Most recent reports from the Waco Police Department say five to 15 people are dead, and several first responders are still missing. The explosion also destroyed 50 to 75 homes, an apartment complex with 50 units, a middle school and a nursing home.

More than 100 people were treated at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco. Another 65 were treated at Providence Health Center in Waco. Providence Health Center spokeswoman Heather Beck said injuries ranged from mild to moderate. In the early hours of Thursday morning, she said only one patient was in intensive care.

The explosion is currently believed to be an industrial accident. The smoke from the explosion is no longer considered a threat to safety, according to most recent police statements. The weather in West for Thursday is rainy and cold. There is an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms and temperatures are expected to drop to below 50 degrees. 

West is a small town about 20 miles North of Waco with a population of less than 2,800 people. The explosion could be heard not only in Waco, but also 45 miles away in Waxahachie and other towns. 

Walters, who was recording a radio broadcast when the power in his two story apartment went out, said the explosion made the ground shake — it felt like a real earthquake. Police told Walters and his grandmother to evacuate shortly after the explosion when they stepped outside. They only managed to bring their small dog with them — the rest of their materials are in their home, which Walters is not sure is still standing. He said when they left, part of the attic had collapsed. 

"It's truly devastating. We don't know how devastating, but its going to be devastating. The pictures we have seen … it looks like a war zone," Walters said. "I don't think I am going to recognize the beautiful town of West."

In response to the explosion, schools and churches in the surrounding towns have opened their doors  to evacuees. One of them is the Gholson ISD school building about 10 minutes east. During an interview at 3 a.m., Gholson ISD Superintendent Pam Brown said no one had taken shelter at her school building yet, but that is likely because many in the community already have a friend's place to stay at. Brown said she had the space and food to host up to twenty evacuees.

"Everybody is going to be touched by this, because everybody is going to be related to somebody that was injured," Brown said. 

Walters, who said he has heard from most of his friends but not all, agrees.

"When the names of the victims come out, there won't be one that everybody doesn't know," Walters said. "That's how close we are. We're very, very close."

Walters said he appreciates the surrounding towns and cities that had opened their arms to him and his fellow West residents. He said West has intense sports rivarlies with other towns, but that is set aside right now. 

"Even though we're rivals on the field, tonight we are nothing short of friends," Walters said.