With a congregation of more than 1,500 people torn apart by loss before him, the Rev. John Crowder spoke Thursday of hope and renewal.
“We won’t let our disaster define us,” said the First Baptist Church of West pastor. “We won’t let our past confine us.” The message of strength came during an event marking the first anniversary of the deadly 2013 fertilizer plant explosion that unleashed emotional and physical carnage West is still struggling to overcome.
The ceremony capped a bittersweet milestone in this Central Texas town’s path to recovery. Thursday’s service, “West 4-17 Forever Forward,” began at 7:30 p.m., about the same time a fire broke out last year at West Fertilizer Co. on the northern edge of town.
A moment of silence came at 7:51 p.m., one year to the minute that the blaze caused a stockpile of ammonium nitrate to explode. In seconds, the fiery explosion killed 15 and injured more than 300 people. It damaged or destroyed more than 200 houses, three schools, a nursing home and an apartment complex.
The blast site is now cleared. Gone Thursday were the mangled remains of the fertilizer plant’s buildings that sat for months while state and federal agencies investigated the explosion. The state fire marshal hasn’t determined what caused the fire.
Across the street from where the plant once stood, a white cross memorialized fallen firefighter Cyrus Reed.
“Cyrus, miss you … love you always,” his parents wrote on it. . .