WEST, Texas (KXAN) - Moments of terror, and now healing, in the community of West as families in the community try to piece their lives back together.
But the questions remain -- what caused the disaster and could it have been prevented?
The town was ground zero for one of the worst disasters to hit our area in recent years.
Many buildings in "zone three" look more like a war zone than a small Texas town.
14 people are dead --- including 10 first responders. Some 200 more people were hurt, the estimated price tag… more than 100 thousand dollars' worth of damage.
As with many disasters of this scale -- many wonder what caused it... and how folks can recover.
This week -- several local, state, and federal officials came to West to see the damage.
On Thursday, President Obama spoke at a memorial service held in nearby Waco. Members of Congress -- including Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz also visited West. Governor Perry toured the area -- talking about the investigation into the cause.
In addition to the more well-known public officials -- there was also a visit from one many Americans would never know.
This week Petr Gandalovic -- the Ambasador from the Czech Republic to the United States met with Governor Perry and city leaders in West.
West -- known to many Texans as the home of the Czech Stop... Czech Inn ... and other Czech food spots because it has such a large population originally from the European country.
The Czech government is offering to help out -- donating 4 million koruna -- or 200 thousand dollars to help the town recover from the disaster.
The government's foreign ministry says the money will go toward repairing property in the town.
But as the recovery efforts gain more traction -- so does the search for answers to what caused the fire that led to the explosion.
So far investigators have ruled out natural causes. They were also researching a theory that a nearby rail car caused the fire. However -- now it appears the burned out rail car was actually damaged by the explosion -- and not the other way around.
So far -- state leaders are saying one thing... a lack of oversight didn't cause the explosion.
The last time a regulator from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality visited the plant was in 2006.
But in an interview this week, Governor Perry fought back saying he's comfortable with the state's level of regulation... despite funding cuts in recent years.
Even the regulators say extra environmental regulations wouldn't have prevented the blast.
Bryan Shaw -- the T-C-E-Q Chairman says he's confident that anhydrous ammonia -- the chemical stored at the plant and his agency regulates, was not responsible for the explosion.
One issue for investigators now -- they don't know exactly how much ammonium nitrate was inside the plant... thanks to a gap in federal law.
After the Oklahoma City Bombing and September 11th attacks the federal government required companies storing more than 400 pounds of the explosive ingredient used in fertilizer to register with the department of homeland security.
But the owners of West Fertilizer didn't register even though state records showed it had the capacity to store 270 TONS of the chemical.
The problem is the Federal Department of Homeland security doesn't investigate facilities that don't file reports.
Efforts to strengthen federal oversight of the material for safety reasons stalled in congress back in 2007.
But the West Fertilizer plant had over the past few years -- was fined multiple times for violating regulations.
In 2006 -- the TCEQ investigated the plant after a complaint about an odor.
The agency hadn't been back because there hadn't been other complaints.
But In 2011 - The EPA cited the plant for not having an up-to-date risk management plan... which the company later created.
Last summer - the federal agency that oversees pipelines fined the company $10-thousand dollars for improperly labeling storage tanks and preparing to transfer chemicals without a security plan.
Environmentalist groups -- such as the Texas League of Conservation Voters --are targeting several bills in the state legislature to loosen regulations.
David Weinberg from the Texas League of Conservation Voters said even if there questions into what caused the explosion it would quote "seem like this would be the wrong time to be weakening environmental regulations and the ability of cities and communities to take part in the process."
Many of those living inside the blast area will never go back inside their homes...
But the waiting -- with no knowledge of what was inside the "restricted" area -- was excruciating.
This week -- we got out first look inside the worst hit part of town... zone three. "Spring Street" now dubbed "Destruction Drive." Too awful to stay put. Christi Jones and her family lived here only two months before the blast.
"We're having to pack our stuff up and take it to a storage or somewhere like that until we can find a house to rent," Jones said.
But moving day is a little light. Because they
have to leave behind a lot.
"The couches are covered in glass. All the floor was covered in glass. Both the windows were busted out," said Jones. And their neighbors were even worse. "All their ceiling's caved in."
Brittany Castro, neighbor: "Next door is not like this. Just crazy the way it damaged things."
Most won't move back on this block. The Jones family were at church when the explosion hit their house.
"We have six in our family. I have three girls and one boy," the family said.
Christi credits faith for her family's survival... and its future.
"I just praise God, because my family wasn't here," said Jones.
To make things worse for those living here -- most of the homes in that part of town are rentals.
Even though there's no home - many contracts are still in effect and rent is still due.
Some in town are wasting no time to file lawsuits against the West Fertilizer company...
A single mother and her son lost everything after the plant destroyed their apartment. Also -- several businesses and churches in West as well as their insurance companies are suing the company.
It has been a little more than a week since that terrible explosion here.
14 were killed -- and more than 200 were hurt after the blast at the fertilizer plant in town.
This week, President Obama visited a public memorial service in Waco as the community continues to heal.
As the president spoke at the memorial -- those affected by the explosion say the destruction is leave a lasting impact on the community.
In the program, Ron Sirinicki said anyone can run a hose, or climb a ladder, but to put others' lives before your own is the honor of firefighting.
The community of West is represented entirely by Republicans in both the state legislature and the US Congress.
In addition to Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Congressman Bill Flores represents that part of Texas in Washington.
State Senator Brian Birdwell and State Rep. Kyle Kacal represent the community here in Austin.
The impact of the explosion is being felt far outside the small town of west.
Soon after the disaster, Agriculture commissioner Todd Staples visited the area... posting this video on the department's facebook page.
He also was driving past West soon after the explosion happened.
The first set of funerals after the disastrous explosion in the community of West.
This week, three firefighters were laid to rest.
One of the services was for Kenneth Harris -- a 31 year veteran of the Dallas Fire Department who lived in West.
It is only the beginning -- as the community buries 14 bodies after the explosion.
Monday -- two brothers, both volunteer firefighters will be laid to Rest.
Robert and Doug Snokhous were among 10 first responders to die in the explosion and fire.
There were countless stories of heroism coming out of that disaster --
Some of the heroes were those fire fighters.
But others were regular folks like you or me.
That includes the Burch Family -- who rushed in when many ran away.
As the community of West continues to heal -- now is the time when YOU can help in the recovery.
KXAN is working with H-E-B stores to help the people of West.
You can make donations to the American Red Cross at all Austin-area H-E-Bs at the check-out.
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