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It has been almost eleven months since a deadly ammonium nitrate explosion and fire at a fertilizer plant changed life forever for the 2,800-plus residents of West, Texas.
Part of the district and local government's dilemma has been that with so many homes and property damaged by the blast, local tax revenues have fallen far below what was expected before the disaster. With businesses and homes destroyed, property values have been reappraised or suspended in some cases, further complicating the business of rebuilding the community's infrastructure.
Local officials say while the tragedy of the plant explosion lives on in their minds they are thankful for the flood of support that has helped them save their town. The tragedy has been offset by an out-pouring of response and kindness exhibited by friends, family, strangers, baseball teams, wholesale grocers, government officials, good neighbors, churches, social organizations and others.
But in spite of the help, some are wondering if the fate suffered by West could be repeated at another Texas town. Corporate and political posturing has been taking place since the explosion, and some contend it has helped state and safety officials to establish who or what was to blame. Some are suggesting that a better safety standard required by state officials, including regular inspections, may have helped West to avoid the disaster.
Some believe local officials and emergency responders may not have had the knowledge or training to deal with hazardous material stored at the plant, or how much of a risk it posed on any given day. McLennan County emergency coordinator Frank Patterson said that while county officials knew about the storage of ammonium nitrate at the plant, they didn't have a clue how the amount fluctuated from week to week or even day to day, and they had not been advised of the risk it presented to residents of West and the county-at-large.
The local fire department reports that they had been called to the plant numerous times for suspected leaks on valves, but no one seemed to know of the actual danger associated with the vast amounts of hazardous materials stored at the plant. Highly pressurized ammonia can become a potentially lethal gas if it leaks and, as discovered, can be the cause of a massive build up and explosion.