WEST, Texas -- On the night the Central Texas town of West set aside to honor the memory of the lives lost in the devastating fertilizer plant explosion last year, residents also reveled in how far they’ve come since the town’s most devastating day.
We found Jose Lopez playing basketball in West City Park. The court is surrounded by a chain link fence that is still twisted, gnarled, and leaning the same direction the blast of the fertilizer plant explosion left it one year ago.
“I haven’t seen nobody play ball here besides me,” said the 2012 West High School graduate.
In fact the weeds, some of them two feet tall growing through the cement basketball court, tell us few people come here anymore -- and for good reason. The park is just across the train tracks from where the fertilizer plant used to be.
“And now a lot of people don’t want to come play because all those memories start coming back, and it’s just not the same,” said Lopez.
But in a town that residents admit will never be the same, progress is coming one brick and one two-by-four at a time.
The crumbling home Susan Knapek evacuated one year ago on Spring Street, and one of the homes closest to the explosion, has been renovated and pieced back together. She moved back in just a few months ago.
“Things are getting fixed quicker than I thought they would,” said Knapek.
Since 1968 Willie and Beulah Zahirniak lived in the same house on N. Regan Street near the now demolished nursing home, torn down apartment complex, and West Middle School that had to be torn down too.
Their home was condemned and then demolished in just 45 minutes. But since they were fully insured, they now live in a brand new home on the same lot. They moved in just last Christmas and their homes is now one of 70 completely rebuilt on the north side of town.
“Just going along. Of course you’re not never gonna forget what happened, but you have to move forward,” said Beulah Zahirniak.
Construction has begun for a new West Rest Haven Nursing Home. Funding has been secured for a rebuild of West High School and West Middle School on a combined campus. Plans call for construction to be completed by Christmas of 2015.
“And that shows you the resilience of the citizens of West,” said West Mayor Tommy Muska.
And the mayor had one more piece of good news for Jose Lopez.
“I just wish they could just bring it back up you know,” Lopez said standing alone in the middle of West City Park. “Lift the spirit back of the people here in town."
Money recently approved means West City Park will soon get a makeover and that lift of spirit too.
“We do have a fantastic story,” said Muska prior to the Thursday night event dubbed West 4-17 Forever Forward. “A story of rebuilding this town in remarkable time that I’m very, very proud of.”
A story with a horrible beginning. It’s the happier, resilient ending West is working toward now.
“Strong. That’s our motto we’re strong,” said Knapek. “It’s been hard, it’s been long, but we’re a strong community.”