Cockerham helps with the emergency in West

Image: Paul Cockerham stands proudly by Italy’s engine.

Paul Cockerham stands proudly by Italy’s engine. (Anne Sutherland)

Chaos, hurt, grief are just few of the words that come to mind when you think of the town 30 miles south of Italy. West, Texas, home of the best kolaches—maybe in the world, has been victim of an explosion so deep and so wide, it has affected the nation. The West Fertilizer plant exploded at 7:53 pm last Wednesday and many lost their lives, their homes, their loved ones and their peace of mind. However, volunteers from Italy and surrounding communities were among the first there to help.

A crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep has been left behind, along with destroyed homes and lives. Along with the pain, comes an outpouring of love, help and hope from surrounding communities, including Italy, Texas. That is not unusual for this town. Italy has always picked up the slack when one of its own is in immediate need. Italy reaches out to help others when called upon and this time was no exception.

Paul Cockerham, Italy native, has worked with the Italy volunteer fire department off and on since 1987. He and Don Stuckly, were some of the Italy volunteers that traveled to West last Wednesday and worked through the night and all Thursday. Other volunteers came from Milford and Forreston. Here is an account of Paul’s encounters:

On Wednesday night, not long after the blast devastated the town of West, a Southern Ellis County strike team (Italy, Milford, Avalon, Forreston and many others) was formed and was enroute to assist. Once on scene, we were met with many wounded people and the sight of burning houses. Scene commanders struggled to coordinate the many EMS and Fire personnel within the city. The blast area was sealed off and an evacuation of the residence ensued. On Thursday, the strike team reassembled for a 7pm-7am fire protection watch. Some of the night’s previous fires were still burning along with some of the rubble located inside the fertilizer plant. This was our first look at the overall devastation and awesome power that was released when the facility exploded. Houses that were located six city blocks away from the blast sustained major structural damage and the homes that were closer were either blown down, pushed off their foundations or burned. Viewing the site of the explosion was something I was not prepared for. The ammonia nitrate’s location was clear to see because it had carved a crater that could have hidden a couple of cars and had moved a 40 foot section of the railroad tracks 3 feet almost touching the other track. The cement slab had been thrown in every direction with large sections found a half a mile away.

My heart goes out to the people of West—many had just lost everything they had, while others were trying to deal with the loss of friends and loved ones and their only concern was if we were hungry or needed anything. Please pray for them as they recover and rebuild.