Sunday, October 13, 2013

Returning To The Scene Of The Crime (Photo Essay)

Westmap1 West, TX before the blast. The fertilizer plant, the apartment building,
the nursing home and many homes are gone now.

It's funny. Had I stored a mountain of explosive fertilizer in my back yard and it caught on fire and exploded killing both my neighbors and firemen who responded, would I be charged with a crime? Would my neighbors be angry at the loss of their homes and loved ones? Would grieving families curse my carelessness and vilify me? I would most certainly say yes.

WestReturn37 Foundation marking the ring of a removed storage tank

WestReturn13 Almost nothing left at the plant site. But it still smelled of fertilizer!

WestReturn12 Plant's mail box

WestReturn38 Gave the feel of a post-apocalyptic wasteland

But there's an answer for that! With one simple act, you can have everyone groveling after the explosion, making excuses for you, even offering you comfort. All one need do is simply file the papers to incorporate. This is the equivalent in centuries past of joining the priesthood. You are deemed holy and become highly revered in the community with your ring - among things - gratefully kissed. Why would people act like this? Because they seek their salvation in it.

WestReturn31 The middle school has been leveled. The high school has been closed.

West55 Middle school on my first visit

Warped sign just outside the middle school playing field.
Just imagine if the blast had happened with a field full of kids.

WestReturn1 High school cordoned off

WestReturn78 Makeshift high school (middle school nestled right next to it.)
Area school districts loaned them the temporary buildings.

I read stories the last few days that most residents of West, Texas who lost their home in last April's fertilizer blast would never see their home again. They were either uninsured or under-insured thus making it impossible to rebuild from scratch. One day you have a home, the next you don't. How does one cope with that? Where do you go? I'd certainly have no place to go. I'd be pretty fucking pissed too. Threaten my family and you forfeit your right to exist.

West54 Apartments just after the blast...

WestReturn27 ...and now: nothing

WestReturn25 Across the street from the apartments, the nursing home lot.

WestReturn71 Many vacant lots once occupied by homes



So I decided to head back down to West and survey the aftermath. I saw signs of resiliency, signs of life - and signs of permanent resignation, of moving on. I managed to talk to one resident who was positive all the empty lots would eventually be rebuilt, that this was prime territory. When asked about where everyone had gone he said some moved to other cities, some moved in with relatives. I asked if losing the fertilizer plant had permanently damaged the economy and he scoffed at the idea.

WestReturn10 Some debris still remains even after six months




After a while the alien landscape got to me, especially when I came across the abandoned park right by the fertilizer plant. Talk about innocence lost. When we finally use up this planet and there's nothing left, will it look like this, just remnants of life lost?





Could West come out of this stronger than before? With the danger of the plant gone and occasions of new housing could she suffer a renaissance from the ashes? If so, what a cruel path to renewal but let us pray it truly is an ill wind that blows no good. For many, their lives can never be made whole again. The plant operator claims to be "busted" and government resources can only go so far. The new corporate priests need hold no fear in this world. But this world is not all there is.

WestReturn3 Came across a smattering of houses being rebuilt from scratch


WestReturn75 A permanent exodus for some

Homemade signs like these line the blast streets

Click here to view the entire set.

Passed another accident on I-35 on way back

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