WEST, Texas – Five years after the West fertilizer plant explosion, a nursing home that was destroyed in the blast has regained a sense of normalcy thanks to the resilience and pride in the community.
"I thought, ‘Everybody in here is dead.' That's the first thing I thought,” said Rose Ann Morris, the nursing home’s assistant administrator.
Officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said someone set a fire in the seed room at the fertilizer plant on April 17, 2013. It spread to another room containing 30 tons of ammonium nitrate. There was a massive explosion, which registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake.
"I saw this big mushroom cloud up in the sky,” Morris said.
In an instant, the plant, two schools, a number of homes and an apartment complex were among dozens of structures annihilated. Also destroyed was the West Rest Haven, a 46-year-old nursing home.
“All of our water sprinklers had broke, so there was water just pouring electrical wires dangling,” Christina Morris, Rose Ann Morris’ daughter, said.
Two first responders, three civilians and 10 firefighters died, but miraculously, all 133 residents of the nursing home survived.
“Some of them went to hospitals, some of them went to other nursing facilities,” Rose Ann Morris said.
Rose Ann Morris and her daughter recalled rushing to their residents' aid.
“We had to carry them, use mattresses, sheets, things like that, because you couldn't roll them out,” Christina Morris said.
“People of all ages just coming to the nursing home to help the elderly,” Rose Ann Morris said.
When the smoke cleared, somehow the steeple and a cross from the ravaged building remained intact. They were built into the new, larger state-of-the art facility constructed right across the street.
You won't find any debris left behind where the old structure stood, but standing there brings back vivid memories of what once was for Christina Morris.
“This is where all the bushes were, and our drive, underpass -- you would drive through right here and drop off the residents,” she said.
She said it’s a reminder of how quickly life can change, and a testament to the resilience of the small, tight-knit community
The nursing home still owns the lot where the old home once stood. The administrator said while they're not exactly sure how they'll use the land just yet, they know it won't be sold.