By Tammye Nash
Cleburne Times Review
— Editor's note: sharing a story from our sister publication in Cleburne
WEST — West businessman Dennis Kolar said Thursday morning his hometown has been devastated by the explosion Wednesday night at the nearby fertilizer plant. But he said the close-knit community will come back, strong as ever.
Kolar said he and his wife, Linda, were out for dinner after work and sitting at a restaurant about a mile and a half from the West Fertilizer plant when they first saw the fire.
“It was just a little smoke at first, some flames,” Kolar said. But then, “the whole town shook,” when the plant exploded.
The force of the blast knocked tiles from the roof of the restaurant where Kolar and his wife were eating and partially collapsed a section of the roof, he said.
“It felt like the whole building was picked up off its foundation and moved,” Kolar said. “There were flames shooting into the air, huge mushroom clouds. And there were bodies everywhere, blood. A lot of houses were just leveled, some of them burned to the ground” after being set ablaze by burning debris scattered by the explosion.
“One of our schools is gone — just completely leveled. Thank god the kids weren’t at the school when it happened,” Kolar said. “There was a rest home that collapsed. I have heard that some of the residents there are missing, still unaccounted for.
The worse part, Kolar said, was “there was nobody to respond” because firefighters and emergency workers were at the plant when the explosion occurred. The people who would ordinarily be there to help this time were the ones who needed help the most.
Kolar said he and his wife “tried to help all we could” in the immediate aftermath of the blast. But they, like everyone else, were hampered by the smoke and the fumes from burning chemicals.
“The smoke was so dense, so black, you couldn’t see anything at all, and the fumes were just horrible. They burned your eyes and your throat,” Kolar said.
The Kolars returned to their business, Bold Springs Tire and Lube Center on Interstate 35W “on the opposite side of town” from the site of the blast and opened their doors to those seeking shelter.
“We are open for the people who need somewhere to go,” Kolar said. “We’ve got a TV here. We’ve got showers and a bathroom. And we have some barbecue response teams from all over coming in to help feed people. We’re just here to help people however we can. I have sure seen better days.
“I am 51 years old. I have lived here in West all my life, and I have never seen anything like this. It’s just total disaster. But we will get through it somehow. We will get through it and we will be back.”