Aid organizations, churches and individuals are at work in West, Texas, this week as the small town of only 2,500 people begins the long road to recovery. The community is mourning the loss of 14 lives in last Wednesday’s explosion while more than 200 wounded victims recuperate. Today many individuals are returning to their homes while aid groups reach out to assist those affected by the tragic blast.
"The devastation is immense," described Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott of West, Texas. Another official stated, "There are homes flattened. Part of that community is gone."
In West, Texas, people knew victims' names before numbers of the dead and injured were even released. "We know everyone that was there first," Christina Rodarte, a West resident of 27 years, told Fox News. "There's no words for it. It is a small community, and everyone knows the first responders … all volunteer."
The Waco commander for Salvation Army, Maj. Dan Ford, began the set-up of five mobile canteens for victims of the blast the night the explosion rocked the small Texas town.
"He told us to go, and we go," said Jennifer Moya, a spokeswoman for Salvation Army. The local public library, meanwhile, was converted to the Red Cross headquarters in the wake of the disaster. Together with partner agencies, the Red Cross is opening an assistance and support center to aid residents in the wake of the explosions.
"West is a town that many Texans hold near and dear to their hearts,” President Obama said in a statement released Thursday, “and as residents continue to respond to this tragedy, they will have the support of the American people.”
Organizations across the country mobilized to provide a swift response in West, Texas. “We’re collecting general things like clothing, food, water, baby care items, batteries, flashlights and medical items,” said Steve Major, director at Unified National Emergency Response Team in Flint, Michigan. “We are asking medical supply companies or EMS agencies to donate bandages, gauze, gloves, sanitation wipes and other items.”
West is a predominately Catholic community, and on Sunday St. Mary's Church of the Assumption was packed for Mass. The Rev. Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, Catholic bishop from Austin, addressed the congregation.
“Brothers and sisters, you have undergone a period of great distress,” he said. “As you think about these days, some of you may say, ‘this all seems like a dream, a nightmare, something that has come and gone and we haven't yet been able to take it in.’”
For West High School senior Edi Botello, the horrific images won’t go away.
“Every time I close my eyes, all I can think about is the explosion,” he says. “People running around. People evacuating. There was one point I couldn’t even talk. I just stuttered.”
Botello, along with around 1,500 other students from West, Texas, will finish the school year in a nearby school district while their town recovers.
The small Czeck community gathered for a number of interfaith services in the days following the explosion, as faith leaders endeavored to help their community grapple with the tragedy.
“None of this makes sense. It is frightening, it is surreal,” Pastor John Crowder said at one service. “Do you feel like I do, that we’re walking through a science fiction movie?”
During Friday’s interfaith service the Rev. Bishop Joe S. Vasquez quoted St. Teresa of Avila. "Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours,” he said,” yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion looks out on the world, yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now."
With so many people in this small community affected by the explosion, faith services held throughout town provided citizens with an opportunity to connect with friends and family, and begin the healing process.
During one service, the Rev. Ed Karasek told the hundreds gathered that healing would take time. “I know that every one of us is in shock,” he told listeners. “We don't know what to think.”
But the community will eventually heal, he added. “Our town of West will never be the same, but we will persevere.”
Kristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights issues. Kristin has covered topics such as bride trafficking in North Korea, honor killings in Pakistan, the persecution of members of minority faiths in Iran, and the plight of Syrian refugees. She has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kristin can be contacted at [email protected].
Publication date: April 22, 2013