TEXAS: Explosion leaves Episcopalians dazed, but ready to help

By Luke Blount
Posted Apr 18, 2013

[Diocese of Texas] As of the morning of April 18, reports confirm Episcopalians from West, Texas, are safe after the devastating explosion of a fertilizer plant, according to officials from St. Paul’s, Holy Spirit, and St. Alban’s in Waco, just 15 miles to the south. However, countless others have been affected either physically or emotionally.

Late Wednesday night, an explosion from a fire at a fertilizer plant injured more than 150 people and killed between five and 15 others. The blast destroyed or damaged more than 50 homes and several buildings, including a nursing home, intermediate school and grocery store. The impact was strong enough to register a 2.1 earthquake.

“It felt like a bomb and sounded like a bomb,” said Joanna Strom, a West resident who is also the parish secretary for St. Paul’s in Waco. “It was like an atom bomb went off. It was insane looking in the sky, like a mushroom cloud. I can’t even describe it to you.

Strom, who lives a few miles from the fertilizer plant, knew there was something wrong immediately. Her home was far enough away that it didn’t suffer any damage, but she was concerned about her friends.

“I know everyone in West because it’s a small town,” Strom said. “I tried to text everyone I knew. Some of them were OK, and some were unaccounted for. Some people were staying at the local hotel. The problem was that it was total chaos last night. Nobody knew where anybody was, and it was dark.”

Soon after the explosion, the power went out in most areas. And soon after that, the cell phone systems were overloaded. Strom resorted to using Facebook to send out updates to her loved ones.

On Thursday, her husband dropped her off at work and returned to West to try to search for their friends. If she had not recently broken an ankle, Strom said, she would be out there looking too for the people she considers family.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer, that community came together and they did a fundraiser for me,” she said. “I know everybody there. It is very upsetting to me. It’s like they are my family, and I don’t know how they are doing.”

The Rev. Chuck Treadwell, rector St. Paul’s, said everyone was accounted for at their church and school. Holy Spirit, Waco, reported that a couple of their families lived in West, but they are ok, although one of the families had to be evacuated. St. Alban’s, Waco, also reported everyone as safe.

Calls have flooded churches throughout the diocese with generous and worried Episcopalians eager to help the people of West.

“We’re like everyone else, waiting to see how we can respond next,” Treadwell said. “Everybody in Waco is sitting on pins and needles waiting to go to the rescue.”

Mark Felton is a St. Paul’s vestry member and also the executive director for the Heart of Texas chapter of the American Red Cross. He advised everyone to donate to the Red Cross. People in the central Texas area are also encourage to donate blood if possible.

Additionally, the Diocese of Texas disaster response unit is prepared to take action. Archdeacon Russ Oeschel and the Rev. Gill Keyworth are working on a deployment of the Spiritual Care Teams, which could take place as early as next week.

As more information becomes available, the Diocese of Texas will keep everyone informed of the best ways to take action.