Robert Luttrell and Wayne Watkins of First United Methodist Church in Mansfield, Texas, secure a blown-out window.
By Susan Kim*
July 16, 2013—Within one day after a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant rocked the town of West, TX, the Rev. Laraine Waughtal, disaster response coordinator for the Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference, was on the scene offering support and ultimately helping to plan a long-term recovery that is only just beginning.
The damage to homes is unusual because the explosion, which occurred April 17, struck with an outward force that was followed by an implosion that sucked back through the homes. “When you talked to survivors in their homes, they told you that the implosion hit with such force that they couldn't even breathe. It came back through with a sucking sensation, and it brought down the ceilings, walls and insulation. Five-inch nails in the main supports were just sucked out,” said Waughtal.
Waughtal estimates that almost half the homes will have to be leveled. “There's no way to recover them,” she said, concerned that survivors who have been through the trauma of the blast will now have to live through a second trauma of watching their home be torn down.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which was there shortly after the explosion, working with other faith-based and voluntary organizations, is training case managers to aid survivors in their long-term recovery. “This town is rebuilding a lot—their homes and their lives and their emotions,” said Waughtal.
The First UMC in Mansfield also reached out to West by deploying an Early Response Team (ERT). In addition to helping clear debris from homes, ERT members were simply a listening presence for survivors of the explosion, said Susan Luttrell, the church's director of serving and outreach.
“Our training from UMCOR really helped us respond,” she said. “People sat and told their stories, and we were trained and prepared to listen to them.”
As the ERTs began to help clear out homes, Luttrell, like Waughtal, said home damage from the blast was extensive, even though many homes may look unscathed from the outside.
“In some houses, the whole center of the house just buckled,” said Luttrell. “We helped people try to salvage items but so much was buried under insulation and sheet rock, and whatever fell out of the ceiling.”
For many weeks, a constant reminder of the blast was present on the horizon. An apartment building close to the explosion site was so demolished that, in the area where the second story once was, all you can see is the sky.
“There's a box where there was somebody's apartment, where there was somebody's life,” said Luttrell.
Luttrell will attend case management training, and she's planning to be involved in the town's long-term recovery. “The people of West are strong,” she said.
Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, will help UMCOR continue to support the people of West as they begin their long-term recovery. Please donate now.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org