1 year later: West reflects on blast that killed 15

In this April 15, 2014 photo letters of hope are attached to a tree at the site of the old West Rest Haven nursing home that was destroyed in the West, Texas, Fertilizer Company a year earlier. On April 17, 2013, a fire at the plant caused a blast that caved in walls at nearby schools and homes, and sent debris flying for miles. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Rod Aydelotte)

WEST, Texas (KXAN) — There will be a memorial observance Thursday evening for the one year anniversary of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

Some 200 homes were damaged or destroyed. Fifteen people died, 12 of them were first responders.

In the meantime, the rebuilding goes on for the living.

The West Long Term Recovery Center says 209 building permits have been issued over the past year and 28 families have already moved back in to their homes. The rebuilding is mostly done by volunteers.

“We had groups from all over the state, all over the nation, help in March,” said Suzanne Hack, director of the recovery team. “We hope to have many more during summer vacation.”

Hack is a Waco lawyer who leaves her five children and husband every day to oversee the work.

Her construction director is John Raimer left his grownup children in Gainesville, Fla., first to work on hurricane recovery in Louisiana, then tornado recovery in Alabama. Now he is in West.

“I think we’re ahead of the curve,” he said. “They are still recovering and rebuilding in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, so we’re doing well here.”

The home they are rebuilding now belongs to Flor Fuentes, who is living with her four children in a rented trailer until the work is complete, perhaps by June.

“They want to help me and it’s great,” she said. “It’s been a long year but it’s good now. We can’t wait to come home.”

The recovery team says all the rebuilding that is possible should be complete before the year’s end, making for a special Thanksgiving for the people of West.

As for where John Raimer goes next, “God will tell me,” he said. “My life got a lot easier when I stopped arguing with him.”

Thursday’s observance will be at 7 p.m. at the West fairgrounds, with a moment of silence at 7:51 p.m., to mark the exact moment of the blast a year ago.

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