Leaders in tragedy-stricken West say a new city plan could strengthen economic stability following the April fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people.
The deadly blast destroyed more than 300 homes and left an uncertain future for a city that'd been best known for its Czech heritage and bakeries that are a pit stop for travelers on Interstate 35. But Mayor Tommy Muska says the city can't just "shoot from the hip" to survive.
The Waco Tribune-Herald reported that city leaders in West are working with an urban planning firm that helped plan recovery efforts in New Orleans and Galveston following natural disaster there.
"We want businesses to look at our city and come to West. This plan will help us, I believe," Muska told the newspaper. "Any business needs a business plan and this will be a start. We are taking baby steps, but economic development is a vital part of any town."
The blast knocked out windows and rooftops all over the town of 2,800 residents. It destroyed and damaged nearby apartments, a nursing home and two schools. Victims included 10 first responders and two others who volunteered. Debris scattered as far as two miles.
Investigators have been unable to pinpoint the cause of the explosion but narrowed the possibilities. A state criminal investigation remains open, and federal safety regulators this month proposed that West Fertilizer Co. be fined $118,300 for safety violations.
Founded in 1882, West was a booming railroad town that attracted a disproportionate number of German and Czech immigrants attracted by its fertile farmland, perfect for growing wheat, corn and cotton.
KAI Texas is helping the city develop a master plan. Company president Darren James said the blueprint will help give West long-term viability. He said any plan will have to factor in the town's heritage and pride and strength of its residents, which James said became clear upon visiting the city following the explosion.
"What really struck me, though, was walking around and seeing the pride in the community, the resilience of the people and the fact that this is home to them and they want to stay here. That really resonates really strongly," James said.
The Society of St. Vincent DePaul, a Catholic lay charitable organization, put up $62,000 to help fund and recruit a planning firm.
Muska said this month's hiring of anew city administrator and working with KAI Texas to develop a recovery plan should help West rebuild and grow.