Search and rescue efforts are still ongoing in the town of West outside of Waco. On Wednesday night, a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant rocked the small community. At least 200 were injured and twelve fatalities have been confirmed by state officials.
For the first full day after the blast, residents and first responders tried to understand what happened, while continuing search and rescue efforts.
Thursday in West began with locals like Darryl Garrick thinking back to what had happened the night before. He lives just south of Main Street.
“I was sitting in there and it lifted me up off the couch, probably four foot off the couch," Garrick recalled. "I felt the whole house just come completely up. And I walked out the door and seen the big cloud over there. And we jumped in the truck. And realized it was the apartment building that took all the damage.”
That apartment building has about fifty units, and is very close to the fertilizer plant. It’s also where Garrick’s grandchildren were with their babysitter at the time of the explosion. He says the babysitter became trapped under a collapsed roof.
“[So] the four year old pulled the two year old out. Dragged him by his leg and pulled him all the way out of the apartment complex. And then had him on the stairs. And then the stairs collapsed. That’s where we got him.”
Both of his grandchildren are okay.
Nineteen-year old Sammy Chavez says he was just two hundred yards away from the plant when it blew.
"Out of nowhere, it just exploded. I was sitting in my truck and glass shattered in my face. Crazy after that. Just craziness.”
He had gone over to the West Intermediate School to videotape the fire at the plant. Then the blast hit. His face is now a spiderweb of red cuts and bruises.
“I erased my videos that I took. Cause I don’t want to think about that anymore. I feel really lucky right now. Because I could be dead right now."
But Thursday was also a day for community. For folks nearby like Billy Floyd to come offer a lending hand.
"You know, when we heard about it we put a team together really quickly this morning, hooked a smoker up, came down here, set up at the command center, and we’ve been here all day just doing the best we can," Floyd said.
He had come up from Waco on behalf of his company Cargill. He and a group of others from the beef plant spent the day handing out food and drink to emergency responders and residents.
“You know, I’ve lived here in the Central Texas area all my life. And this is the first time I’ve been involved in anything of this magnitude.”
The magnitude of the day was both emotional and physical. A large section of town was blocked off the entire day by state officials as they conducted a search and rescue operation in what officials called a “volatile situation.” Emergency responders who asked not to be recorded had just come back from the cordoned off area. They said it looked like, quote, a “war zone:” That houses had been reduced to matchsticks. As of sundown, they had finished going through about 80 percent of the area.
News helicopters hovered over the sight of the explosion throughout the day. But for reporters on foot it was difficult to see much of the destruction.
Across a large field on the Northeast side of town, as close as one could get on Thursday to the site of the blast, you can see a large tank that looks like its literally been peeled apart, with some light smoke coming off it.
For many people in West Thursday, people like Deborah Waters, there was a constant question: What comes next?
“I don’t know. I don’t know," Waters said. "We rebuild. We figure out who needs to go where, what needs to happen. We’ll be fine.”