Students overwhelmed by “devastating” fertilizer plant explosion

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    TCU students responded in shock and empathy after a devastating explosion at West Fertilizer Co. in West, Texas leveled homes and businesses Wednesday evening, injuring more than 160 people.

    Although the number is not finalized, as many as 15 people are feared dead. The explosion in West, located about 20 miles north of Waco and 70 miles from Fort Worth, was registered as a magnitude 2.1 seismic earthquake.  

    "It's scary that TCU families could have been involved in this tragedy and I feel like tragic things keep happening closer and closer to home,” Maddie Lipphut, a sophomore strategic communication major, said. “My heart goes out to everyone who was affected by this explosion."

    At 10 a.m. Thursday, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Kathy-Cavins Tull sent an email sending her "thoughts and prayers" to those affected by the explosion.

    “Like many of you, I watched the aftermath of the explosion that occurred in West, Texas [Wednesday]. Clearly this is an event that will have an impact on this community for a very long time. Our campus is already responding by reaching out to those we know live in the town of West, but we may not be aware of everyone who may have been affected by this tragedy,” she wrote in the email.

    The explosion leveled the area around the plant, destroying up to 75 houses, a 50-unit apartment complex, a middle school and a nursing home.

    "The plant explosion was an incredible tragedy. The size and proportion of the explosion is just mind-boggling," sophomore business major Luke Benuska said.

    According to Waco police Sgt. William Swanton, at around 7:30 p.m., West volunteer firefighters responded to a call from the plant after an employee realized potential disaster could ensue because of the plant’s chemical stockpile. He said the explosion happened 20 minutes later.

    American Red Cross crews from across Texas are headed to West, and volunteers with Red Cross Dallas/Fort Worth are in Frisco, Texas accepting donations to buy food and clothing for those affected.

    Alyssa Vijil, a 2011 graduate from the university and a volunteer for Red Cross, said several responders from the Dallas/Fort Worth location have gone to West, but that volunteers are mostly on standby to not overwhelm the area.

    Vijil, a volunteer on the disaster action team, said she has organized a supply drive to help victims from a distance. Donations needed include flashlights with batteries, packages of dust masks, LED lanterns with batteries and men's leather work gloves and can be brought to Red Cross.

    Aubrey Dosman, a sophomore graphic design major, said: “You never think something like that could happen so close to you. It makes me more thankful everyday that my friends and family are safe.”

    Cavins Tull also told students in the email about ways to get assistance if needed.

    For those who have been affected or need to speak to someone, contact Campus Life at 817-257-7926 or at Sadler Hall 2006, the Counseling Center at 817-257-7863 or Religious and Spiritual Life for pastoral or spiritual care at 817-257-7830 or at Jarvis Hall.

    Rescue missions are continuing through Thursday, and Swanton said searchers “have not gotten to the point of no return where they don’t think that there’s anybody still alive.”

    Stephanie Holland, a sophomore psychology major, said: “It’s just crazy and sad and unfortunate and I’m just going to pray for all the families in West, Texas. I hope that everyone is okay and that God is watching over all those people that were involved.”

    An open prayer vigil sponsored by Student Government Association and the Religious and Spiritual Life office will take place Thursday at 7 p.m at Robert Carr Chapel. 

    This report contains material from The Associated Press.