Ten days later, West blast victims return to devastation zone

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by JOBIN PANICKER

WFAA

Posted on April 27, 2013 at 8:37 PM

WEST, Texas — Residents of the hardest-hit explosion zone in West, Texas were permitted to return to what's left of their homes on Saturday morning — 10 days after the devastating blast at a fertilizer plant.

Residents started lining up at 7 a.m., but were only being allowed get their belongings. They were required to leave Zone 3 by 7 p.m.

Mayor Tommy Muska told News 8 that residents of Zone 3 must register at the library before they can gain access. Residents were being escorted into the zone.

"Whew! It was rough... rough for everybody," said Byron Williams, who drove into Zone 3 to check on his home.

He took a camera and found what he had anticipated — a dismantled house with its roof caved-in and bricks spilled everywhere.

"This is what I got left, in the back of a pickup truck," he said. "Fifty years of memories in the back of a truck."

Williams did find one thing... something precious: A photograph of him and his son, Austin.

They were in the front yard when the fertilizer plant blew up. Williams shielded his son by lying on top of him. Williams broke his ribs doing it.

He treasures having his whole family safe. The hunting gear, the cowboy hat, even a son's trophy can all be replaced.

"I'm going back," Williams said. I'm rebuilding. I'm a victim, but I'm a survivor.

Just as some West residents ventured back home, hundreds of others gathered to say goodbye to Buck Uptmor on Saturday. He was one of the 15 people this community lost, and one of the many first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice to help people like Williams.

Mayor Muska estimated the housing property loss in his town at $24 million.

The mayor also revealed Saturday that the Czech Republic is donating $200,000 to help the town recover from the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 17 people. The town has a very strong Czech heritage.

There are now six lawsuits involving the fertilizer plant explosion. The latest is from the family of volunteer firefighter Morris Bridges, who is among the 15 people killed.

The others are from two insurance companies, a nursing home resident, a West couple, and a man who was blinded while visiting a friend at the nursing home.

There will be a benefit concert for West at 5 p.m. Saturday at Melody Ranch Dance Hall in Waco. The music continues Sunday starting at noon. Tickets are $10.

Also on Sunday, Willie Nelson is turning his sold-out 80th birthday celebration concert into a fundraiser to help the volunteer fire departments in West and Abbott.

Money raised will buy equipment to replace what was lost in the explosion.

It's happening at The Backyard at Bee Cave, but donations can be made directly to the fire departments. Nelson turns 80 on Tuesday.

E-mail jpanicker@wfaa.com

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