Five years ago, West experienced one of the worst chemical blasts in U.S. history. 15 people — 12 first responders and three civilians — lost their lives in the fertilizer plant explosion and about 200 others injured.
“I don’t remember the actual explosion, I don’t remember the aftermath of it, for me I just woke up the next day in the hospital,” said Robert Payne, who was injured during the explosion when he was a Volunteer Firefighter.
Payne never witnessed the force equivalent to a 2.1 magnitude earthquake on April 17th, 2013, but he is living with the aftermath.
“Broken bones in the jaw, teeth, nerve damage on the right side, broken left ankle, hearing loss, busted ear drum, broken ribs, several other things,” said Payne.
His injuries are healing, but memories still haunt him.
“Certainly it’s a scary thing as well to have lived through it, to have come so close,” said Payne.
West Mayor Tommy Muska was also a member of the Fire Department at the time, he says by the grace of god, he didn’t go inside the plant.
“I had parked my car by the High School and was making my way on foot to the fertilizer plant when it exploded,” said Muska.
Two years ago, investigators determined someone started the fire on purpose.
“I can’t see, personally as someone being born and raised in this town someone that would have the evilness in them to start that fire,” said Muska.
Payne agrees, he thinks it was an accident of circumstances.
“I just don’t believe somebody set it. I think it was probably either electrical or the golf cart they thought it was,” said Payne.
1,825 days later, most of the town is rebuilt, now looking to officially commemorate all 15 lives lost with a monument in the city’s park.
“We wanted to make sure we included all of them, so each individual station will have a story, a picture of that individual that’s probably about 20 inches high,” said Joe Postyousky, whose son was killed in the blast.
The memorial will display everyone who lost their lives five years ago, and it’s expected to be completed in the summer.
Names of victims: Morris Bridges, Perry Calvin, Jerry Dane Chapman, Cody Frank Dragoo, Kenneth Harris, Adolph Lander, James Matus, Judith Ann Monroe, Joseph Pustejovsky, Cyrus Adam Reed, Mariano C. Saldivar, Kevin William Sanders, Douglas Snokhous, Robert Snokhous and William Uptmor, Jr.