Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Latest News

April 19, 2013

WEST EXPLOSION: Texas town grieves for dead first-responders

Editor's note: Daily Sun photographer Ron Farmer visited West on Friday, two days after the tragic events of Wednesday night when a fertilizer plant exploded. View his photos on the Daily Sun Facebook page.

WEST — Buck Uptmor didn't have to go to West Fertilizer Co. when the fire started. He wasn't a firefighter like his brother and cousin, who raced toward the plant. But a ranch of horses next to the flames needed to be moved to safety.

"He went to help a friend," said Joyce Marek, Uptmor's aunt. "And then it blew."

Two days after the fertilizer facility exploded in a blinding fireball, authorities announced Friday that they had recovered 14 bodies, confirming for the first time an exact number of people killed. Grieving families quickly started planning burials.

Ten of the dead were first-responders — including five from the West Volunteer Fire Department and four emergency medics, West Mayor Tommy Muska said.

The dead included Uptmor and Joey Pustejovsky, the city secretary who doubled as a member of the West Volunteer Fire Department. A captain of the Dallas Fire Department who was off-duty at the time but responded to the fire to help also died.

The explosion was strong enough to register as a small earthquake and could be heard for many miles across the Texas prairie. It demolished nearly everything for several blocks around the plant. More than 200 people were hurt, and five people remained hospitalized Friday.

The first-responders "knew it was dangerous. They knew that thing could go up at any time," said Ronnie Sykora, who was Pustejovsky's deacon at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church. "But they also knew that if they could extinguish that fire before it went up, that they could save tens of lives, hundreds of lives. That's why they were in there."

Following a tour of the rubble Friday, Gov. Rick Perry told reporters the search-and-rescue phase for anyone still trapped was largely finished. He said the state would offer help to the 29-member local fire department that had been "basically wiped out."

"To the first-responders: I cannot say thank you enough," Perry said.

Earlier in the day, Edward Smith, a volunteer chaplain for the Dallas Police Department, counseled firefighters at West's fire station.

"Right now, the general public might be saying, 'Well, why aren't they talking about this?'" Smith said of the firefighters. "They don't necessarily even want to talk about it. They're holding out hope."

In a town of just 2,800 people, everyone here knew someone affected by the explosion.

Officials offered reassurances Friday about the 60 or so people listed as unaccounted for after the blast. McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said many people on the list probably lost their homes and have simply been hard to locate since the Wednesday evening accident.

"I think we're going to eliminate 99 percent" of those listed, he said.

The fertilizer facility stores and distributes anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer that can be injected into soil. It also mixes other fertilizers.

Plant owner Donald Adair released a statement saying he would never forget the "selfless sacrifice of first-responders who died trying to protect all of us."

One of the plant employees was also killed responding to the fire, Adair said.

Federal investigators and the state fire marshal's office planned to begin inspecting the blast site Friday to collect evidence that may point to a cause.

Franceska Perot, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said investigators would begin at the perimeter of the explosion and work inward toward the destroyed fertilizer company.

Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz, who toured the town Friday, said they would wait for more information about the explosion before considering whether there should be more regulation of anhydrous ammonia.

The accident forever changed the community's landscape. An apartment complex was badly shattered, a school set ablaze and a nursing home left in ruins. At West Intermediate School, which was close to the blast site, all of the building's windows were blown out, as well as the cafeteria.

Marek was teaching a high school youth group when the blast shook the room. The lights went out, and a student's phone lit up with a text message that there was an explosion at the fertilizer plant. He told Marek his brother's truck had been picked up and hurled into his family's house.

Marek spent the next couple of hours wondering if she knew anyone who might be at the plant. Then Uptmor's wife called.

"She said, 'Have you heard from Buck? She told me they had called him up there, and she couldn't get a hold of him," Marek said.

They spent the next few hours frantically searching for the father of three, who coached baseball, played drums in a band and whose phone was always ringing with people seeking help. Sometimes it was a truck stuck in a ditch or a house that flooded or a neighbor who needed a hand moving furniture.

Every time, Marek said, Uptmor would go.

"Why did they have to call him? He was safe at home with his family," Marek said. "But you know, if he hadn't gone, he wouldn't have been Buck."

___

Associated Press writers Will Weissert and Christopher Sherman in West, Juan Carlos Llorca in Dallas and video journalists John L. Mone and Raquel Maria Dillon in West contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • 4-23-14 DerrickDays.jpg Derrick Days: Downtown Chowdown

    Derrick Days is ready to go, with events escalating everyday until the big Saturday celebration, with dozens of activities that day alone.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-23-14 TownHall.jpg Navarro College Town Hall shares updates

    Reaching out to the community, inviting the civic groups to the campus, and doing a better job of sharing the story of Navarro College were some of the ideas brought up at a college Town Hall event held Monday.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • CISD board hears facilities study results

    The long-awaited CISD facilities report from the Texas Association of School Boards was delivered, at least in a short form, Monday at the Corsicana board of trustees meeting.

    April 22, 2014

  • Train accident victim identified

    A 61-year-old Corsicana man was taken to Parkland Hospital Monday night after he was struck by a train as he tried to cross a railroad track on foot.

    April 22, 2014

  • Report: West plant explosion preventable

    The fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people last year in a tiny Texas town could have been prevented, even if it's still not clear what started an initial fire that triggered the blast, federal officials said Tuesday.

    April 22, 2014

  • Local Beat for 4/23/14

    A listing of meetings and events of interest from throughout Navarro County

    April 22, 2014

  • DPS urges online driver's license renewal

    Renewing a Texas driver's license doesn't necessarily mean waiting in long lines or prepping your best photo ID look for the camera. The Department of Public Safety on Tuesday urged residents to renew online and beat the typical summer rush at driver's license offices.

    April 22, 2014

  • Agency report on West blast to be released

    It has been a year since a fire caused a huge explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant that killed 15 people, yet companies in the state can still store hazardous chemicals in flammable wooden containers in buildings without sprinklers and volunteer firefighters like those who rushed into that plant still aren't required to train how to fight such fires.

    April 22, 2014

  • 4-22-14 Aldis.jpg ALDI gets set for May 1 opening

    The much anticipated opening of a new ALDI Grocery store in Corsicana is just two weeks away.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-22-14 Minithon main.jpg Oil Town Minithon kicks off Derrick Days celebration

    The 2014 Oil Town Minithon Saturday raised an estimated $6,000 for local charities as it served to kick off the annual Derrick Days celebration.

    April 21, 2014 3 Photos

AP Video
Bon Jovi Helps Open Low-income Housing in Philly Pipeline Opponents Protest on National Mall Hagel Gets Preview of New High-tech Projects S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart New Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees Named 'Piles' of Bodies in South Sudan Slaughter New Yorkers Celebrate Cherry Blossom Blooms SCOTUS Hears Tv-over-Internet Case Justice Dept. Broadening Criteria for Clemency Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers 'Miss Meadows' Takes Holmes Back to Her Roots Biden: Russia Must Stop Talking, Start Acting David Moyes Out As Manchester United Manager Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs High Court to Hear Dispute of TV Over Internet Stowaway Teen Forces Review of Airport Security
Twitter Updates