WEST, Texas (KXAN/AP) — Jerome and Lucille Lednicky watched the coverage of the explosion in West, Texas, at lunchtime Thursday at a local burger and sausage house.
Fort the couple, along with their three grown daughters, the news accounts were intensely personal. As soon as the West Fertilizer Co., caught fire the night before, they fled from the home they built in 1964. By the time the blast that leveled much of the town erupted, Jerome, 76, and Lucille, 77, had made their way to safety.
And they hoped the coverage on television at Nors Sausage and Burger House could tell them whether their home survived the blast.
They don't know for sure, but the aerial photos of the blast zone gave them little hope. On Thursday, they cherished their memories that date back almost a half-century.
"On Sunday, we cooked a big lunch," said Lucille. "And everybody had such a good time. That was our last time altogether in the house. We've got a lot of memories in that house."
Michael Harrington moved to West just a few years ago, but it already feels like home to him. He trained with several of the firefighters who died in the explosion, some he called his best friends.
Harrington was at an apartment complex nearby pulling people out during the fire. Has actual job is with the city water utility, which he had to get back to after our conversation. They were shutting off water to one entire side of town.
"The percussion that went through the whole city," he said. "Even 10, 15 miles out, people felt it. When my pager went off, I was in Waco, so I got here about 15 minutes after the blast. Lost some friends last night... I heard it over the radio when I was en route here. 'Firefighters down. Firefighters down.'"
He was able to hold everything together emotionally, to keep working after such a personal loss. But the emotions seeped out when he spoke of his friends, but he said he would just have to react later after it was all over.
Erick Perez was playing basketball at a nearby middle school yesterday evening when a fire started at the plant. He says he and his friends thought nothing of it, but then the smoke changed color. He says the blast threw him, his nephew and others to the ground, and showered the area with hot embers and debris.
Julie Zahirniako had been with her son at the school playground. She says the explosion threw her son four feet in the air, breaking his ribs.
She says she saw people running from a nearby nursing home, and that the roof of the school lifted into the sky.
The nursing home was also badly damaged. One man who arrived there before the first responders says he and his wife found residents in wheelchairs trapped in their rooms, amid dark hallways and ceilings that had collapsed.
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