Chris Van Horne, NBC 5 News
Officials told residents of West they would be allowed to return home in phases beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and a curfew would be in effect.
After three days of waiting, following the deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer Company on Wednesday, some residents who had been evacuated were allowed to return home.
“I’m not leaving my home,” said Mindy Williams.
Williams says the last three days have been frustrating at times.
“Three days, yes, I’ve been turned around by the troopers and game wardens nine different times,” she said.
But on Saturday night, Williams was happy to be home. She waited for about an hour with dozens of other neighbors to be escorted into her neighborhood south of the plant.
“I’m sitting in the car going, ‘wooohoo, I get to go home!’” Williams said. “And then it’s, ‘what am I going to go home to? And how many other people I know can’t go home and they’re not going to have anything.’”
Inside Williams’ home her things were tossed about, cupboards blown open, mirrors shaken and her bathroom totaled.
“If someone had been in this room particularly, such as I since I was in the house, I don’t know what would have happened,” she said. “A tornado and an earthquake together, that’s exactly what it felt like.”
The damage to the homes south of Oak Street in West is relatively minimal, with blown out windows, a collapsed awning and damaged garage doors. A large number of DPS troopers and game wardens kept a close eye as residents returned, not allowing anyone farther north than Oak.
“They tell me that every house is destroyed from this point forward pretty much,” Williams said.
That’s understandable given what residents here felt and saw on Wednesday.
“Felt this force come over the house and then the windows busted and the doors busted open,” Williams said.
Williams’ mother and son were gardening outside, but were uninjured. She said she saw a neighbor down the street screaming with part of her leg missing. She said she ran toward the blast, calling 911 but couldn’t get through. She says a state trooper told her to leave as gas might still be in the air.
“I thought it was a lightning bolt that hit, then look up in the sky and there’s the mushroom cloud,” said Ryan Janek.
Janek’s front door was blown off its hinges and several windows were blown in too. His wife and three young daughters were unharmed. While they prayed in the laundry room he ran outside. He was going to help rescue folks from the nursing home, but his sister-in-law warned him about chemicals still in the air and they’ve stayed with her and his brother since.
“I thought my house was a disaster when I first stepped outside, but when you see the other houses you realize you’re very fortunate.”
Janek says they’ve been trying to help other neighbors more seriously impacted the last few days and spent his time in the neighborhood boarding up the windows and screwing shut his front door.
He returned to stay with his brother, but expects to be back next week.
Mandy Williams sent her mother and son back to her aunt’s farm not far away, but she plans on staying at her home and says she, her neighbors and city won’t be going anywhere.
“We’ve got a lot of lost ones that aren’t going back home, we all know them and they’re all our family,” she said. “And we’re going to be all right, we’re going to be all right.”
West remains under a curfew in the restricted zone. Concrete barriers prohibit entry along some streets. Residents will be allowed back in between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. under escort, but they can stay at their homes. Officials just say those residents need to remain inside the structures during the curfew.
As for when more residents will be allowed in north of Oak Street, Steve Vanek, West’s mayor pro tempore, says they’re working on phase two of that as quickly as possible but are asking for patience from residents.