Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Latest News

April 22, 2013

West: 911 calls capture terror

Corsicana — WEST — When the first call came in, it was just a fire. Smoke was coming from West Fertilizer Co. and an alarm was sounding, so a woman at a park just across the railroad tracks called 911. She was calm and matter of fact. The dispatcher responded in kind: “OK, I’m going to get them to put out the fire.”

It was 7:29 p.m. April 17, and the last routine moment in West, Texas, since.

Within 20 minutes, the park was strewn with two-foot chunks of concrete from the exploded fertilizer plant. The apartment complex behind it was ripped apart by the wave of energy that climbed the railroad bed and slammed into the building, shredding its roof and blowing out windows.

Dispatchers were swamped with hysterical reports. Nearly all 50 calls that flooded in during the next 35 minutes came from within a mile of the plant. Some knew what happened, others knew only that windows had suddenly shattered on them and houses several blocks from the site were on fire.

Firefighters and EMTs would account for 10 of 14 people killed, and more than 200 people in the town of 2,800 would be counted as injured.

State and federal investigators continued combing the site Monday looking for the cause of the blast so powerful it registered as small earthquake. They had found the center of the explosion a day earlier, but not the fire’s starting point.

Recordings show fears ran rampant among those who called 911 last Wednesday night.

One woman who glanced outside and saw the mushroom cloud that erupted from the blast could be heard shouting: “Get out of the house. Get out,” to those around her. “There’s a freaking cloud. Look at that!” An off-duty firefighter concerned about the air called a second time to say he was leaving with his family. A man wearing an ankle monitor told a dispatcher as he drove that he was fleeing the chemicals.

Investigators later assured residents the town’s air was not toxic.

Calls from those further away relate terror of the unknown. Dispatchers asked callers to take deep breaths and repeat the unintelligible.

“Something happened out here,” a crying 83-year-old woman tells the operator, her voice quavering. “Our house exploded or something. There was a big explosion and then our house is just destroyed.

“We’re all ok, but my God, what has happened?” she said. “I’m scared to death.”

Residents and dispatchers soon realized the enormity of the situation. One woman who called about a house burning on her street was asked if she lived close to the fertilizer plant. But she said she was several blocks away.

Less than five minutes after the first explosion call, dispatchers also knew West’s own emergency resources were severely hampered.

“Listen to me, my ambulance station just completely exploded,” a West EMS supervisor can be heard saying on one call. “I’ve got a nursing home and an ambulance station and an air evac. I need as many ... trucks as you can send this way.”

“The roof completely collapsed on the building. I’m doing a walk through now. I think we got everybody out,” he said. “I don’t have radio communications, I have lost my repeater.”

The blast left the city with one functioning ambulance.

An EMT training class was in the building that evening. The trainees already had passed their practical exam, so they left the class to go help, said Dr. George Smith, West EMS’s medical director.

Four of the 18 in that class died. “Every one of them were friends of mine,” Smith said.

Smith now carries a photo on his phone that shows a huge pile of debris, part of what used to be the West Rest Haven nursing home, where he also is medical director. The home sat between the ambulance building and the fertilizer plant.

“I was under that,” Smith said of the collapsed roof in the photo. His face bears scrapes and scratches from the night.

Smith and others managed to get all of the about 130 residents out. One man later died, not from injuries but his existing medical conditions, Smith said.

   —————

Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com.

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • Cancer Center Relay 1 Relay for Life fundraiser hits home as O'Neills offer drawing for weekend at guesthouse in Kemah

    Ten bucks. What will it get you these days? Maybe lunch. An eighth of a tank of gas. A pound of bacon. What about a beautiful weekend trip near the Texas coast? While helping an incredible local cause? You bet.

    April 18, 2014 3 Photos

  • Friday morning fire damages home

    A home in the 1700 block of West Ninth Avenue in Corsicana was damaged by an early morning fire Friday.

    April 18, 2014

  • 4-20 West Jump 1.jpg West honors 15 killed in year-ago explosion

    Rev. Terry McElrath heard the deafening boom. The pastor spun around and saw a column of smoke billowing into the sky above his small Texas town. He immediately thought, "Somebody has died tonight."

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-18-14 Campbell Award.jpg Campbell named ‘Texas Aviator of the Year’

    It was quite an honor for Corsicana's “Dr. Dave.” The longtime Corsicana physician, and namesake of C. David Campbell Field at the Corsicana airport was named 2014 Texas Aviator of the Year by the Texas Department of Transportation.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-18-14 Hop 1.jpg Kids at Hop Downtown offer insights into holiday

    The Hop Downtown, sponsored by the Main Street Office and local businesses, was colorful, loud and joyous, with Easter Bunny photos, free eggs, cookies, a bounce house and face painting Thursday afternoon in downtown Corsicana.

    April 17, 2014 3 Photos

  • 4-18-14 Wesley UMC.jpg Two churches set to close

    Two local United Methodist churches are going through the early stages of closing their doors.
    Barry United Methodist Church and Wesley United Methodist Church in north Corsicana are both ending their ministries, according to their respective pastors.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-18-14 NavarroRegional.jpg Baker named hospital ‘Employee of Year’

    Navarro Regional Hospital has named Sandy Baker as 2013 Employee of the Year. This award is the highest honor bestowed on a hospital employee each year. Baker was chosen from among 327 fellow employees for the honor.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Church News for Friday, April 18, 2014

    News and announcements submitted by congregations throughout Navarro County.

    April 17, 2014

  • Mounted shoot event draws wide interest

    A fast-growing sport among western enthusiasts is taking center stage in Hubbard next weekend.
    The Hubbard Rodeo Association is hosting a Cowboy Mounted Shoot on Saturday, April 26 and Sunday, April 27

    April 17, 2014

  • Calicos to host dance clinic Saturday

    The Corsicana High School Calico Drill Team will host a special dance clinic for girls in 6th , 7th and 8th grade this Saturday, April 19 beginning at 9 a.m. in the Calico Dance Studio

    April 17, 2014