Some are celebrating in new homes, while others are still in rentals. But many residents of a Central Texas town still recovering from a fatal fertilizer plant explosion that flattened neighborhoods are counting their blessings this Christmas. And they're looking forward to 2014.
"I am very thankful that 2013 is ending. It has not been a good year," George Smith, a doctor who helped remove elderly people from a nursing home that collapsed in the April 17 blast, told the Waco Tribune-Herald for a story published Wednesday.
Fifteen people were killed, 12 of them while responding to the fire at the West Fertilizer Co. Dozens of others were injured. And the rural town of West, about 20 miles north of Waco, was left with a gaping hole where houses, schools and the nursing home had long stood.
For many, including Smith, just surviving that night is something to be grateful for this Christmas.
"You can rebuild property, but you can't rebuild lives," Smith said.
Rebuilding has occupied much of the town since the explosion. Smith is still repairing his clinic and his home and is spending Christmas in Orlando, Fla., with his daughter and grandchildren.
"I am ready to move into my house, but I'll be happy if I am in it by next Christmas," Smith said.
Syble Bohannan and her husband, Bo Bohannan, managed to celebrate this Christmas in the new, smaller house they built on the empty lot left after the explosion. Married for 62 years and both in their 80s, the Bohannans said people questioned why they bothered to rebuild after the home they had lived in since 1961 was destroyed.
"We had lived here for so long, and we thought we were getting ready for the glory land," Syble Bohannan said. "But one day in April, all that changed."
They could not imagine living anywhere else, so they rebuilt and moved back home in time for Christmas. There was no time for a tree, but the lights were hung, and the bustle of Christmas filled the home recently as Syble Bohannan prepared snacks for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"We have so much to be thankful for," she said, noting they were home when the blast shattered glass in their house and the force threw them around.
Yet except for a few scratches and bruises, they were largely uninjured.
"We were very, very fortunate," Syble Bohannan added. "We have had so many angels helping us."