Residents Of West, Texas Struggle To Cope With Tragedy

Residents are still trying to make sense of what happened in their tiny Texas town of West — just north of Waco. An explosion at a fertilizer plant killed an undetermined amount of people on Wednesday night and injured nearly 200 others.

The town of West is small, agricultural, with a little town square and a railroad track cutting through the middle of  everything.
It’s not the kind of town that’s suspicious of outsiders, more like the kind of place that invites you in for a cup of coffee and a kolache.

That’s what Janis Wilcox is doing at the Stockyard Cafe on the western edge of town. The kitchen is closed because no one is around to do the cooking, but she’s handing out free cups of coffee to everyone who walks in. She’s lived in West all her life and has waited tables here for 14 years.

“Everybody knows everybody and a lot of people are helping, free coffee, food. I’ve got people calling from Waco, Robinson and stuff like that, all coming and bringing food and everything.”

While Janis pours out hot coffee, just up the road, closer to the site of the explosion, people are checking the damage on the town square. Windows are blown out on many of the shops and businesses.

James Horton works at the Czech-American Restaurant on Main street. He was standing outside when the explosion happened, the force shoved him back and knocked his cell phone out of his hand.

“Well I’m a Corpsman in the Navy, and so I’m a medic. So my initial reaction was to haul butt over there and see if I could provide any support. And then I went over there and I started giving all the support I could. And it’s still … I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Horton says people were walking around in shock and the scene looked like a tornado or hurricane had passed through.

It’s safe to say everyone who lives here has been affected in some way — whether through loss of property, loss of a friend or just grief over the horror of what happened.

Ken Kavanis meets up with a group of friends for coffee at the auction barn every week. They talk about the week’s cattle auction and swap news.

This week, the auction isn’t what’s on their minds.

“So I came over here to check on my friends. There’s still one of friends that’s home is right there at the explosion. We haven’t heard from him yet…so…”

The mayor of West, Tommy Muska, put the town’s thoughts into words.

Please pray for us, he said. If you want to help, pray for us.


Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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