Samaritan's Purse is helping homeowners recover in the aftermath of an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas
Ten days after a fertilizer plant explosion rocked West, homeowners were allowed back into zone 3—the “hot zone”—on Saturday.GiveZone 3 is the area closest to the plant that blew up on April 17. Most of the residents weren’t returning home. They came to see the damage caused by the explosion. They came to pack their belongings, to salvage what they could. And they came to cry, to continue to deal with the aftermath of the disaster that changed the small Texas town of 2,800 forever.
Samaritan’s Purse was there also, helping retrieve precious memories and helping people cope by assuring them that God is with them in the midst of their difficulty.
Our volunteer teams were allowed into the tightly controlled area with homeowners who agreed to let us help. They included Dorothy Sulak, a 71-year-old woman who has lived in West her entire life and in this neighborhood since the ‘70s.
Dorothy worked at the fertilizer plant for over 30 years. On April 17, the place that had provided an income took her house.
She was at home when the plant exploded. Thankfully, she wasn’t seriously injured. But the house was. She hoped to repair it, but was told that won’t be possible. There’s too much damage to the foundation, the walls, the roof. Saturday was moving day, with Samaritan’s Purse volunteers helping her pack up her life.
“I am so blessed to have you here, so thankful for Samaritan’s Purse,” she said.
She didn’t just lose a house. She lost a home she shared with her husband. He passed away last August, and the wound is still fresh. She has so many memories. She wanted the weathervane from the top of a carport. It was damaged in the blast, but it was installed by her husband and is precious to her.
The volunteers helped with many items of sentimental value that Dorothy couldn’t part with.
“I’m so blessed,” she said. “I don’t have the words. I’m so blessed you all are here.”
Samaritan’s Purse will continue to do the same for other homeowners in zone 3.
“For the most part, this is going to be packing belongings so people can move,” said Todd Taylor, program manage for the response. “It relieves some of their stress, knowing there are people there to help them.”
Samaritan’s Purse responded to the blast by sending a Disaster Relief Unit from our headquarters in North Carolina when we received permission to enter the affected area. We began working in neighborhoods outside of zone 3 earlier in the week, helping homeowners whose houses were damaged when the massive blast blew out windows, buckled foundations, and brought down ceilings.
“There was a big noise and the house shook,” said Flor Fuentes, one of the first people helped by our volunteer teams. “It was terrible. The noise was so loud. After that initial shock, you don’t feel anything. I was bleeding on my head, and didn’t even know it. I felt the blood, and I felt scared. I was shaking.”
Flor, who was home with two of her children when the plant exploded, had been hit by a picture frame that flew off the wall. Thankfully, the wound was easily treated. But her home required a lot more work. The kitchen and ceilings sustained significant damage. Household items that seemed OK superficially had to be removed because they are covered with glass and because of the risk of ammonia contamination.
Our teams are helping people like Flor by packing up belongings and cleaning debris.
“It’s kind of hard to ask for help,” Flor said. “I was working by myself but I wasn’t getting much done. I worked a whole day just to clean up all the glass. When the group came I was so glad. I couldn’t have done it by myself. It’s a huge help. It would take me a month.”
More importantly, we are letting the homeowners know that God cares. In conjunction with chaplains with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, we pray with the disaster victims and present them with a Bible when the job is finished.
“I know God is here,” Flor said. “The volunteers came to my house like they were family. I kind of adopted them. And they adopted me like part of my family. I guess God always gives you what you need.”
Police said the fire began at 6 p.m. local time April 17 with the explosion following at 7:50 p.m. It was so massive that it registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake.
As many as 80 homes were destroyed by the blast. At least 14 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
Please pray for the community of West, Texas, for those affected by the explosion and fire, and that our volunteers and the chaplains will communicate the love of Christ in word and deed.