| WEST, Texas, April 21
WEST, Texas, April 21 Hundreds of residents of
this close-knit Texas town sought healing at a church service on
Sunday, as schools were readied to reopen and authorities
investigated the cause of this week's deadly fertilizer plant
About 200 residents in the town of West, Texas - including
farmers, veterans and migrant workers - packed into Church of
the Assumption in the center of the town for Catholic mass early
Father Boniface Onjefu offered prayers for the 14 dead,
among them local volunteer firefighters and emergency workers
and nearly 200 injured in the blast that smashed several city
"West is a strong city," Onjefu told the congregation packed
into the church, the altar decorated with a spray of white
Residents of the tiny town, about 80 miles (128 km) south of
Dallas and less than 20 miles north of Waco, stood together "in
these trying moments," he said.
"Let us be strong and move our beloved city ahead. God is
with us. God bless us," Father Onjefu said.
The blaze and ensuing explosion at West Fertilizer Co, a
privately owned retail facility, gutted a 50-unit apartment
complex, demolished about 50 houses and battered a nursing home
and several schools. Dozens more homes were reported to have
The cause of the blast, which was so powerful that it
registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake, remains under
investigation. Neither the cause or the location of the fire
that preceded it have been determined, say investigators.
Power, water and gas are still turned off in blast-ravaged
parts of the city of 2,700 residents, which remains under a 7
p.m. CDT curfew. Mayor Tommy Muska said a local area school
would reopen on Monday with some students in temporary
There will be a memorial service for the first responders in
Waco at 2 p.m. local time on Thursday.
Some of those evacuated from a devastated area north of the
historic downtown have been allowed home but only to retrieve a
few belongings. Muska warned the recovery will "be a marathon,
not a sprint."
Larry Kaska, who lost his home on the north side of town,
said the mass led by Onjefu at the brick-built church brought
"some healing" to residents as they started to rebuild their
"We're turning ... getting back to some normalcy again,"
said Kaska, who is now living at his nephew's home. "Just
hearing his prayers and comfort, and (knowing) that people are
being supportive ... help you out."
Authorities have said there was no indication of foul play
at the plant, which was last inspected for safety in 2011,
according to a risk management plan filed with the federal
Environmental Protection Agency.
But for some at the Catholic church service, it was too
early to speak of healing. Among them Silvestre Duran, a Mexican
migrant whose care worker wife, Lucy, was injured as the blast
tore through the nursing home where she worked.
"It will take time, a lot of people have memories that will
be with them for a long time," Silvestre said, noting that his
wife has suffered flashbacks since the blast.
"I'm doing a little better, but still dealing with the
memories," said Lucy, speaking in Spanish. She was wrapped up
against the slight chill in a black shawl, her face marked by
burns and multiple stitches in her right ear.
Their daughter, who also worked at the nursing home, was
injured in the explosion as well.
Another churchgoer, who identified himself only as a farmer
who had lived in West all his life, was still struggling to come
to terms with the toll on the town.
"I lost three of my best friends ... I should have been
maybe there with" them, he said, clearly shaken. "I just
consider myself and my family blessed ... If you don't have
faith in the Good Lord, you have nothing."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, G Crosse)