Thursday, April 18, 2013, I woke up from a really good nights sleep. I had gone to bed Wednesday evening after Duck Dynasty without checking Facebook or watching the news. For whatever reason I turned on my TV while getting ready for work. I was not prepared for what I saw. Two and a half hours away, a small town was turned upside down after the town’s fertilizer plant had caught on fire and exploded. Immediately my heart sank. The news was reporting that first responders had died but the death toll was unknown, over a hundred citizens had been injured. God put a heavy burden on my heart that morning for the town of West.
Living 30 minutes away from work, I spent the drive in tears and praying for the people that had lost their homes, lives, friends, family members, and possible jobs. I didn’t know what to do or how to help but I felt I had to go. I have a background in law enforcement and EMS but my full time job is working at a non-profit in the social services side. Being that the desire to go never left, I made up my mind and made plans to drive to West. I called my pastor and some friends from church and I was able to take approximately 15 cases of water and a bag of hygiene products.
I arrived in West, TX around 3:20 and found a state trooper blocking the highway, I pulled over and approached the trooper, gave him my story as to why I was there and within minutes, I had another trooper meet me to escort me to ground zero. Nothing could have prepared me for the sights I saw that afternoon. I was at ground zero from 3:30 to almost 7:00 pm. I watched as members of the Urban Search and Rescue team combed through the skeleton rubble of the apartments that were across from the explosion site. At times I broke away from the emergency workers to aimlessly walk the streets and pray over the town and the families that once occupied the homes. It was breath taking and surreal.
Thursday night I spent the night at the West VFW, they welcomed the workers and volunteers with open arms. Hot meals were provided throughout the time I spent in West. Just a couple of hours later I was up again and met other volunteers at the community center where I met with a young lady named Melissa that worked with MHMR out of Waco. After filling Melissa in on my background she had me meet with families as the came into the community center. It was there we were able to help them get the help they needed. Some people came in with hopes of finding loved ones that they had not heard from, others lost everything and needed food and clothing, and others just needed a person to talk to as they went through the grieving process. So many people came in and out of that building that day, all with heart wrenching stories of loss and grief.
Families began hearing from the Justice of the Peace and were informed that indeed, their family member was killed in the explosion. 14 people were killed that evening, almost all were first responders who went to help people, just like 9/11, these courageous people went running in to help others and ended up loosing their own life.
By the end of the day Friday, Melissa introduced me to Jim Mckee, a chaplain with Victim Relief Ministries (VRM). Jim ended up being my Godsend and I will forever be grateful for that man of God. Jim told me of a Christian campground, just outside of West, that was offering free rooms and food for anyone affected by the explosion or just to volunteers that needed a place to stay. I stayed at Dayspring Campground with several of the chaplains and counselors for the rest of my stay in West.
Saturday morning, Jim adopted me into VRM and allowed me to tag along as they ministered and prayed with people. Saturday afternoon, zone ‘a’ was reopened to citizens. The homes in zone ‘a’ had slight to moderate damage, windows were broken out and in some cases, the outside of the house appeared to have no damage but upon entering, there were cracks along the walls and roof, where when the explosion occurred and sent shockwaves, the whole house shifted off it’s slab. Our VRM family, along with Billy Graham Ministry chaplains, and MHMR workers, went into the affected areas, passed out cases of water, and when allowed, prayed with the family members. Stories from some of those families will follow in another post. Saturday was truly an amazing experience.
Sunday, when zone ‘b’ was opened, we did the same ministry work. Passing out cases of water, bags and gloves to help with cleanup, and offered words of encouragement and prayer. One of the homes I had passed was burned to the ground, stained glass windows at the church were broken out, and the school and zone ‘b’ had glass everywhere. The destruction that was caused to this small town was unreal. The images of the homes and businesses will forever be ingrained into my mind.
Sunday evening I came back home. I left West forever changed. Despite buildings and homes torn apart, the people of West joined together and became stronger in the midst of such horrible conditions. My relationship with Christ and my desire to do ministry work was only increased. Christians, lets be the church.
Love God, Love People