Two weeks ago, the small town of West suffered a terrible tragedy when an explosion at a fertilizer storage facility ripped through the community. Approximately 200 people were wounded, and at least 14 lost their lives. Among these are many of the volunteer first responders who bravely sacrificed their own lives in order to protect the lives of others.
I traveled to West recently to meet with local officials and make sure the community was not wanting of anything in the ongoing relief effort. The devastation was heart-wrenching and the images of destruction will be with me forever. Yet I will also carry with me the uplifting scenes of grace and humanity that I witnessed in West.
Make no mistake: the people of West are resilient. The town traces its roots to the 1840s, as settlers migrated from the east across the young Republic of Texas. Blessed with fertile soil and fresh spring water, the community grew.
Like many Texas towns, West has thrived through the years because of a citizenry that emphasizes both self-sufficiency and the importance of community.
I can report that these traits are alive and well, and they have been on full display to the world in the wake of last week’s tragedy.
Upon feeling the explosion and seeing the mushroom cloud billowing into the sky, people’s immediate concerns were not for themselves, but for others. We saw this both in the actions of first responders and ordinary citizens, who instinctively ran towards the danger, not away. Residents could be seen loading their cars with victims and making trip after trip to the hospital. At the local nursing home, located just a couple of blocks from the site of the explosion, the quick-thinking and heroic disregard for personal safety demonstrated by the staff saved the lives of scores of elderly residents.
In the aftermath, businesses stayed open around the clock and neighbors threw open their doors to help support victims. Restaurants and cafés refused to charge for meals, and people from all over descended on West with food, supplies, and a simple question: “How can I help?”
In the face of devastation, the people of West and countless other Texans from the surrounding area have come together in a truly awe-inspiring outpouring of goodwill and community strength. We are commanded to love our neighbors, and the people of West are showing us how.
I know I join all Texans in mourning the tragic loss of life in West. We pray for comfort to come to the grieving and for healing to come to the wounded.
I have no doubt that West will recover from this tragedy. The abundance of love, faith, and selflessness that exists in this town would sustain it through any disaster. The best of the Texas spirit is embodied by the people of West. As one resident put it to me, “Being a Texan doesn’t describe where you’re from, it describes who your family is.”
Let us strive to embody these words. Let us not forget West in her time of need. And when we find ourselves in our time of need, may we be blessed with the same courage and resolve that this small town has shown the world.