Some West residents unaware of feritilizer facility's potential danger



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Posted on May 3, 2013 at 7:48 PM

Updated Friday, May 3 at 7:48 PM

WEST, Texas -- After the fertilizer chemical facility explosion, Willie Zahirniak said the response from West officials and McLennan County has been tremendous.

"Everyone has really pitched in," he said.

But it is what happened in the days and weeks before the blast at the plant that have him concerned.

"I've never knew what was stored there, and I've lived here all my life," Zahirniak said. "Let's put it like that."

News 8 is raising more questions about just who was responsible for warning town residents about the potential hazards of living so close to a plant that stored high-powered chemicals, like ammonium nitrate.

On Thursday afternoon, McLennan County Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Patterson said he didn't review some reports that detailed what was being stored at the plant. He said it technically wasn't his job to warn residents about the potential dangers of living near the plant.

"It's a hiccup in the system," he said.

Earlier in the week, the area's state representative, Republican Kyle Kacal, said he believed people living in West were aware of the danger.

"Rural Texas and the agriculture folks understand the volatility of that plant, yes they do," he said.

But News 8 found other residents, just like Zahirniak, that weren't told about just how severe an explosion really could be.

"It wasn't something anyone discussed or worried about," said Mike Sulak, who also lost a family home because of the blast. "Never entered anyone's mind."

All of the homeowners interviewed by News 8 said first responders and the town's response after the blast was impressive.

A series of News 8 Investigations have also been looking into whether the county was properly running a Local Emergency Planning Committee, or LEPC. That is mandated by federal law.