Dealing with disaster in West

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on April 22, 2013 at 2:50 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 6:00 PM

WEST, Texas — West Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek said it will be at least a week and could be up to three weeks before water service is restored to the city after last week's explosion.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, officials said the whole town remains under a boil-water order, and as many as 350 homes north of Oak Street may be without water for up to three weeks.

According to a release posted on the city's website, preliminary reports state water infrastructure has been severely damaged. Vanek said before service is restored, water must be tested by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and engineers must check the city's fire hydrants.

"I don't have water, so I'm not staying without water," said homeowner Michelle Carroll. "I have to have showers every day."

The Webre family returned home on Monday to find their house standing — but what they value the most was gone — their dog, Bentley.

"I told my mom we may have lost our business and our house and Bentley," Stacy Webre said. "But people lost family members. We are lucky."

West residents continued returning to broken homes near the blast zone. What the explosion spared, though, Jimmy Bolansky worries thieves have taken.

"Somebody come over here to steal my damn guns while I'm gone," he said. "That's damn sorry of a person."

It's understandable that West residents are frustrated.

"My windows are blown out... my roof is caved in... and, you know, I need stuff," said homeowner Susan Jackson.

It's still unclear when all areas of the town will be reopened, and investigators admit they are far from explaining what sparked the explosive fire at the West Fertilizer plant.

"One way to compare this is much like an archaeological dig," said Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner. "We're layering through everything as we're going to try and get the answers."

Stacy Webre would also like answers.

"This is our living room," she said, worrying that her home cannot be saved.

As friends helped pack her worldly possessions, she posted a sign — "COME HOME BENTLEY!!" — hopeful not everything is lost.

"I can get a new puppy," Webre said. "I can't — and couldn't — bring family back. So we're just thankful we're all okay."

Authorities said Monday small trucks and trailers (smaller than 16 feet) and all ages are now allowed in the damaged portions of the city known as Zone 1 and Zone 2, but Zone 3 — the closest to the explosion's epicenter — remains off-limits.

Insurance adjusters also have full access to Zones 1 and 2 at this time.

The release on the city's website said an announcement about re-entry into Zone 3 is anticipated in the next 24-48 hours. Additionally, the city's 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew remains in effect in all areas.

Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said there is still no known cause of the blast, and the investigation is a slow, methodical process. On Monday, investigators mapped the crater left behind after the explosion.

A memorial will be held Thursday at 2 p.m. in Waco for those killed in the explosion.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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