Mike Maler barely made it out of his home alive after an explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant flattened parts of a tiny town outside Waco, Texas.
Today, his family’s brick house in West, just 20 miles outside Waco, is completely gone, just like so many of his neighbors.
“It’s just so sad. It’s just very terrible here,” neighbor Amy Hutyra said. “It’s just such a tight-knit … this is my stomping grounds. I have relatives down the road and you can’t get in touch with them. Any if you do, the cellphone is out. I’m here just to see if they’re even alive.”
In a place where everyone knows everyone else, the injured and missing are all someone’s family, someone’s friend or, at least, a familiar face.
West, Texas, is the heartland of America. It is home to just 2,800 people and the annual barbecue cook-off by volunteer firefighters. Many of the firefighters were running into yesterday’s blaze as others ran out and so many are still unaccounted for. Flags at their station today were flown at half staff.
Today, the streets of West are battered and bruised, and so are its residents, like Eldin Pavelka. The blast was so strong, it knocked Pavelka right out of his chair and onto his living room floor. His windows were blown out and his metal garage door twisted. But he calls himself one of the lucky ones and said he “thanks the lord we’re still here.”
Just 400 yards away, there is still smoke at the blast site smoldering away.