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Explosion in West, TX

West residents asked to accept offered help

Posted Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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WEST -- Stunned and shocked residents of this quiet town along Interstate 35 gathered for a town hall meeting Saturday, and were urged to ask for help and counseling if they need it.

Karen Bernsen, a volunteer coordinator, told a crowd of about 200 that the Red Cross had set up an assistance center to provide a wide range of aid, including legal, financial, transportation, insurance and temporary housing.

Red Cross caseworkers will also help those whose jobs were disrupted by the blast, including surviving employees of West Fertilizer Co.

Representatives from the Social Security Administration will be in town to help people get new identification cards, Bernsen said.

Bernsen said state officials set up a mobile hospital at West Community Center that can handle most medical issues, but not surgery.

Next to the hospital is an HEB field kitchen, which is providing free meals to displaced people. At the nearby West Fair and Rodeo Grounds, they can pick up food, clothing and clean up supplies.

Grief or stress counselors are available at the Church of Christ, near the Community Center on Tokio Road, Bernsen said.

She noted that no one had yet gone to a temporary shelter. She also worried that people might be reluctant to accept any of the free food and clean-up supplies that have been pouring into West from all over Texas and other parts of the nation.

"People of West are very good about giving help, but we don't receive it very well," Bernsen said.

"Please go to the fairgrounds and fill up a bucket. Please don't feel guilty about needing supplies. All have been donated and they're free."

The community's character of service was described by Tom Juntunen, whose house was damaged by the blast. He and his family visited the Community Center on Saturday to see how they could help.

"If you're not dying, you're going to be helping," said Juntunen, a lifelong resident of West. "That's just the way we are."

In a field a couple hundred yards north of the Community Center, Senior Pastor John Crowder was helping members of his congregation, First Baptist Church of West, set up folding chairs for outdoor Sunday services.

The church is near the blast area and is blocked from members.

But, Crowder said, "We're going to have church."

He said lots of church members were at the sanctuary for Wednesday services when the blast happened. He said children playing outside were knocked down by the concussion, but if they had been indoors in the children's area, they would have been showered with debris because the ceiling collapsed.

"No matter what's going on around us, we feel like God deserves our worship," Crowder said.

Crowder and his family are also among the displaced. He said the front of his house basically collapsed into his living room.

"I think it's important for me to be a voice of hope and peace," he said. "God has given me the strength to hide my emotions from the community."

Anyone who wants to volunteer should check in at the Community Center, Bernsen said.

The aid center will be open from 1-7 p.m. Sunday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday.

For information on aid, residents can call a hotline at 254-826-4113.

They are also encouraged to go to cityofwest.com.

For information about entering a home inside the blast area, call 254-826-7550. School information is at westisd.net or at 254-981-2000.

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