The destruction caused by the deadly explosion at a fertilizer company in a Texas town is obvious. People were killed, many others injured, and homes and buildings were damaged extensively by a blast comparable to a magnitude 2.1 earthquake.
And while the situation in West, Texas, certainly appears bleak because of the tragic circumstances that played out April 17, the love of God is shining through as scores of people rally together to provide relief to all those affected by the deadly explosion.
That is not lost on Debbie Little, a Spanish and technology applications teacher at the K-12 Abbott School, just five miles outside the McLennan County town of West in north-central Texas where the massive and deadly blast occurred just before 8 p.m. (CST) Wednesday.
“God works miracles in tragedies,” said Little, who has been helping coordinate relief efforts and deliver donated money and supplies since the explosion. “This has turned into something that is all about what God can do to provide for people. My hope is that people realize all the witnessing that is going on in this tragedy.”
Little described the towns of West and Abbott as being very similar, intertwined by their shared faiths, family values and geographical connections.
“The towns are closely related, very close-knit communities with deep-rooted family ties between the two,” she said. “Even though it happened in West, it affected several families in Abbott. When something like this happens, these people pull together. They jump up and do what needs to be done.”
For many, that meant opening the doors of their homes to those who were evacuated or lost their residences because of the violence of the explosion.
“Nobody wants to leave, and we open our homes to them,” Little said. “When it happened, people took in those who were without a place to stay. That was when we first saw God start working.”
Those acts of kindness, likened by Little to the story of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:27-37, continue playing out daily.
The witness of God’s ability to provide in all circumstances and the willingness of people to reach out to others came as a result of the events that unfolded two days ago. With many across the United States still reeling from the shock of bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured more than 100 people, the nation again was rocked by bad news coming out of Texas with the explosion of the West Fertilizer Company, located just off Interstate 35.
Firefighters initially responded to a fire call around 6:30 p.m. (CST), but while they were fighting the blaze, the plant – which housed more than 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia – exploded.
The blast generated a dark, billowing funnel cloud that could be seen clearly as far away as Fort Worth, some 60 miles away. Shockwaves from the explosion were felt as far away as 50 miles.
“We live 18 miles away and could feel our floor moving and see our roof shaking,” said Sue Ljungdahl, Little’s mother. “That’s how incredible the force was.”
According to a CNN report, the blast may have killed as many as 35 people, up from an initial estimate of 5-15 given within hours of the explosion, and additional reports indicate the death toll could climb as investigators continue to sift through rubble and debris searching for people still missing and seeking a cause for the deadly blast.
Ten of those killed were first responders. More than 160 people were injured.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the explosion “a truly nightmare scenario for the community.”
Little was home with her family when the plant exploded, approximately 12 miles from the site of the blast. She said the garage and barn doors were sucked in as a result of the explosion, and the family’s house rattled.
“At first we thought maybe a storm was approaching, but we could see and smell the chemical mist in the air,” she said, noting that large tracts of farmland cover the area.
Then she received a phone call from her 18-year-old son Cole, who was about a quarter of a mile from the plant when it exploded. He called right after the blast and confirmed what Little and her husband thought once their noses alerted them to the familiar smell of chemicals prevalently used by farmers in the area.
Cole works for a local farmer and was on his way home as he passed by the plant after spreading fertilizer produced by the facility. He had been at the plant earlier that day to pick up supplies.
“We’re so very blessed,” Little said. “God decided He needed him here a little longer, and we’re very grateful for that hedge of protection around (Cole). I wish that had been the case for all the others.”
Even in the darkness of the situation, God’s light is shining as people rally around the community devastated by the tragedy. Abbott School initially was designated as a donation center for supplies and has continued to collect numerous items to provide assistance.
“The Good Lord will provide the resources and the strength needed,” Little said. “It’s been wonderful to see so many people and groups showing up to help. We’ve even had students come from Baylor (University) to help. To me, that says a lot, because mom and dad aren’t there to tell them they have to do something like this. They wanted to do it.”
Many people attended a church service Thursday to remember those who lost their lives and pray for the survivors.
Already church groups and other organizations are pitching in to provide assistance. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has dispatched a team to assist with relief efforts, and churches and other concerned groups in the area have started to collect canned goods, clothes and other household items that will be needed by families affected by the explosion.
Blood donations are being taken to help with medical needs of victims, many suffering from wounds and injuries associated with the impact of the blast.
Financial contributions also have started pouring in to further provide items and resources needed to help people as they try to recover and get their lives back on track.
“The relief efforts are overwhelming today, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be other needs at a later time,” said Will Lowrance, a former mayor of nearby Hillsboro and clerk of session at First Presbyterian Church of Hillsboro who now is a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, PCA in Waco, which plans to use a scheduled mission day next week in support of cleanup efforts in West.
Little added, “People from everywhere are making donations. So many donations are pouring in that it’s almost overwhelming, but that’s a good thing. I just hope the new doesn’t wear off and people will keep giving. There are still things that will be needed three or four days, a week, a month from now.””
Everything being donated in Abbott and other surrounding areas is being taken to either the fairgrounds or local VFW in West. From there, supplies are distributed further to those in need.
Little said people from all walks of life and faith backgrounds are rallying together to support those affected by the tragedy in an area she labeled as multi-denominational.
“It’s really not about denominations,” said Little, a one-time Presbyterian who has been part of the Baptist denomination for the last 11 years. “We all should be part of God’s church, and this should be about doing things to help others in His name.”
While the donation of supplies, financial assistance and willingness to help with future cleanup and rebuilding efforts are important tasks to take on, Little emphasized one other duty that all people can do to support the people in West during such a difficult time: bathe them in prayer.
“It’s just like any other tragedy. These people need prayer,” she said.
And seeing God’s hand at work in such a turbulent time gives reason to be optimistic about the future for the people of West.
“Even in tragedy, God gives blessings. We just have to be willing to receive them,” Little said. “This community has blessed so many others, and God is blessing it now in more ways than we can even imagine. It breaks my heart that people have passed away and loved ones have been injured, but we’re seeing God’s hand at work.
“They’re very resilient,” Little said of people in the town of West and surrounding areas affected by the carnage brought on when the plant exploded. “They’re talking about how they are going to make it through this. They will get back on their feet again.”