Fertilizer plant explosion levels several blocks of small Texas town

Family Moves Into West's First Completely Rebuilt Home

But recent media reports bring more pain for victims' families

By Chris Van Horne
|  Friday, Aug 9, 2013  |  Updated 11:59 PM CDT
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Just four months after the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, one family moves into their completely rebuilt home, and the community enjoys the rodeo in town.

Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News

Just four months after the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, one family moves into their completely rebuilt home, and the community enjoys the rodeo in town.

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West Celebrates First Rebuilt Home

Nearly four months after the West fertilizer plant explosion destroyed more than 100 homes, Mayor Tommy Muska and the town celebrate the first home rebuilt.
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The Central Texas town of West is celebrating the completion of the first home to be fully rebuilt after April's deadly fertilizer plant explosion.

The Kuchera family lives in Zone 3, the most heavily damaged area in West, a neighborhood where many homes were leveled by the explosion.

More than 100 homes were damaged or destroyed. The Kuchera family is moving into a home that had to be completely rebuilt from the slab up, the first family to do so.

"This is rebuilding. This is truly rebuilding, and that's what I'm so proud to be able to congratulate Stephen and Stephanie," Mayor Tommy Muska said.

Stephanie Kuchera remembers exactly where she was when the explosion hit her home of 15 years -- standing in what is now a dining room.

"I remember seeing the blinds and the glass coming at me and thinking, 'What is that?'" she said. "Then I heard two booms, and then I realized something really bad had happened."

Kuchera's two teenage sons were much closer to the blast site, but everyone was OK. Her family was fortunate then, she said.

The Kucheras almost decided not to return but say they are glad they did. However, they recognize it's still a tough road for many of their neighbors and fellow citizens.

"These are neighbors. We've been here 15 years, and we're not leaving," Kuchera said.

New Pain, Anger on Day of Excitement

An NBC 5 crew witnessed a widow of one of the first responders killed in the blast become overwhelmed with emotion at the popular Czech Stop convenience store near Interstate 35.

She was angry that the store hadn't pulled a newspaper that described in graphic detail how her husband was killed in the blast. There was an argument, and she walked out of the store.

Muska said he wasn't surprised to hear about the incident, saying he was at the local paper's office when another angry family member came in on Thursday.

But Muska said he is focused on the positives happening around his community, such as a family moving into a home that had to be demolished just four months ago.

"I think all the citizens will be proud that we're moving forward," Muska said at a press conference in front of the Kuchera home.

Despite the positive step, the hurt remains for families who lost loved ones responding to the blast, especially after several published reports detailed how responders died in the blast.

NBC 5 has decided the details are too graphic to report.

Friends and family members now have seen the media accounts after being warned not to look at autopsy reports, Muska said.

"They lost the ability to choose to hear or know about that, and I don't think the paper should have gone that far," he said. "I read the paper, and I had tears in my eyes because those were my friends."

It's why Muska wants everyone to focus on the positive news of rebuilding and moving on from the April 17 tragedy.

"If it's not positive, then it's a distraction me, and we're going to focus on the positive here," he said.

Kuchera counted 35 construction trucks on her street at one point this week, another positive sign that West is on the rebound.

"West is surviving," Muska said. "West is thriving, and West will be back."

Muska said he hopes to return to his own home down the street from the Kuchera family in about five weeks. The town of West could not rebuilt if not for the assistance of the state of Texas and the federal government, which finally issued a disaster declaration after initially rejecting the request, he said.


West Fertilizer Plant Explosion
Complete coverage of a massive fertilizer plant explosion that leveled blocks of the small Texas town of West, TX. Click here for more.

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