Evacuated elderly find new home together after Texas blast

WACO, Texas, April 20 Sat Apr 20, 2013 6:13pm EDT

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WACO, Texas, April 20 (Reuters) - Edith Nors, 87, has no hearing aid, no glasses and no dentures.

All three are buried under the rubble at her former nursing home in West, Texas, destroyed when a nearby fertilizer plant exploded on Wednesday.

What Nors does have is her life and a new home at The Atrium Skilled Nursing and Rehab in nearby Waco, which has taken in about 25 evacuees from the destroyed West Rest Haven and is expecting a dozen more.

The Atrium's response is one of the good-news stories that came from the explosion. The site took in dozens of victims, reuniting roommates and working through the nights to piece together medication lists and tend to the well-being of West's most vulnerable residents.

"It's not her home, but it's a good alternative," said Nors' daughter, Ann Janeke.

The West Fertilizer Plant near the West Rest Haven nursing home in West, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Waco, blew up on Wednesday night. The blast killed 14 people, injured 200 and devastated some 75 buildings.

Officials in the town were making plans on Saturday to let residents return to their homes in parts of town blocked off since the explosion.

The blast displaced more than 100 elderly residents from the West Rest Haven, according to estimates in the local media.

"I was sitting in the chair to watch a movie and all of a sudden, boom," said Helen Chambers, 87, her blue eyes peering out from under white hair, her face and arms covered in cuts, stitches and bruises.

Glass flew everywhere, the ceiling came down, the blinds flew at her face.

"I thought it was a tornado. It pinned me in," she said. "I couldn't move."

REGAINING STRENGTH

Chambers was taken to a hospital in Waco. When she was wheeled in to The Atrium the next day, she looked so bad that administrator Dianne Taylor started to cry.

"I'm getting better," Chambers told Reuters on Saturday, sitting in a wheelchair in her new room overlooking a courtyard. "I'm getting my strength back."

In the hours after the explosion, the telephone started ringing at The Atrium from officials who needed a place to bring the residents, said Missy Alford, The Atrium's marketing director.

The 125-bed facility sometimes moved newcomers in to bunk with private-room patients who did not mind sharing their spaces. The Atrium also hired former staff workers from the West facility.

Staffers from West managed to find their patients' basic files with doctors' names, so Atrium workers got on the phone to doctors and started researching medications.

Among their biggest needs is money for hearing aids, dentures and glasses. All of them were left behind by dozens of residents since the blast hit around bedtime for many.

Nors, a widow and lifelong West area resident, remembers getting into bed, when the blast brought down the ceiling and knocked her to the floor.

The explosion covered her with asbestos and burned her skin with chemicals and glass. Nors, a retired homemaker, was sprayed in the face by the sprinkler system, making it hard to see and breathe.

"I'm crying and I don't know what's going on," said Nors, who has five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

"I'm saying, 'Somebody help me,' but there's so much of that, people crying and hollering."

All she could see of her roommate of 18 months was a hand under the wreckage.

Then an unknown young man pulled Nors from the rubble and rescued her. She suffered only minor bruises and her roommate is moving into The Atrium, too. (Reporting By Karen Brooks. Editing by Ian Simpson and Andre Grenon)

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