Fertilizer plant explosion levels several blocks of small Texas town

West Kids Return to School Monday

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The first day of school is underway for students from West, where a plant explosion killed at least 14 people, destroyed a school building and left hundreds of people without homes last week. (Published Monday, Apr 22, 2013)

    The first day of school is underway for students from West, where a plant explosion killed at least 14 people, destroyed a school building and left hundreds of people without homes last week.

    Hundreds of West high school students returned to class Monday morning, many in nearby Waco instead of their hometown, after the district's intermediate school was destroyed by the explosion. The district's middle and high schools are closed because of shattered windows and structural damage. The elementary school, which was outside of the immediate blast zone, now has temporary buildings on campus on loan from the Grand Prairie Independent School District that will accommodate the intermediate students.

    West's high school and middle students, needing a place to attend school for the remainder of the year, are now headed to Connally High School in nearby Waco.

    Several high school students told NBC 5 they felt nervous about attending school at Connally for the rest of the year, as the Connally Cadets and the West Trojans are normally arch rivals. Now, they're joined together in tragedy as part of Connally High School will function as West's middle and high school for the remainder of the school year.

    Students who don't drive will be bussed to Waco on buses donated by the Spring ISD outside of Houston.

    "I hope they like us," said Brian Jupe, who admitted to having butterflies in his stomach as he boarded the school bus Monday. "Since the explosion it's kind of been rough. It's going to be different because of the new location and everything. It's probably going to be a little bit nervous."

    The Middle- and high-school students will be finishing the year in a vacant intermediate school building on the Connally High School campus. Volunteers and staff spent three days painting, cleaning and filling the classrooms with supplies while turning a little bit of Waco into West.

    Wesley Holt, a Connally district spokesman, said they also placed binders, notebooks and pens on each desk. Other districts donated furniture, and a food-service company prepared the cafeteria, he said.

    "We honestly had to ask people to stop sending school supplies," said Jan Hungate, assistant superintendent at West Elementary.

    On Monday, students from West were encouraged to wear their school colors in a show of spirit and solidarity for a community suffering devastating losses.

    "Remember: We are West High School and will always be West High School," a message posted on West ISD's web page said.

    In most cases, the students from West will attend classes only with other students from West except for some elective subjects, lunch and some physical education.

    Teachers and parents hope to get students back into a normal routine.

    "I had a lot of family and friends that just don't have homes anymore. Her father's home is destroyed," said parent Elizabeth Bishop, who has a daughter in 5th grade. "I know today's going to be an emotional day for everybody. I think it might hit her today a little bit more than it has the last couple days," she said.

    Teachers said they'll give out hugs, offer support, and do their best to answer any questions the children have, while trying to get back to some sort of normalcy in the classroom.

    "Everybody is affected, because we're all so intermingled," said Anna Urbanovsky, a 2nd grade teacher with three students who lost their homes. "I know they're okay, but I just want to hug them. Just see them and hug them. That's all."

    In a letter to parents last week, the Connally ISD said they will have counselors on hand to assist the students and families from both West and Connally that may be in need of support.

    Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said state officials have offered to waive end-of-year tests and other requirements as needed. Hungate said the district was considering several options on testing.

    NBC 5's Frank Heinz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


    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.