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Texas Tragedy Reinforces Sense Of Community


Let's go back now to the town of West, Texas. It was the scene of dramatic news on Wednesday and Thursday, as a fertilizer plant there caught fire and then exploded, leveling dozens of nearby homes and buildings in this small city just north of Waco. Authorities are still not sure how many people died. An investigation is continuing into the cause of the blast which injured at least 160 people.

Kate McGee, of member station KUT, reports that for many, the tragedy has only reinforced a sense of community.


KATE MCGEE, BYLINE: West, Texas resident Loretta Volcik stands in front of her house, looking up at the helicopters circling overhead.

LORETTA VOLCIK: The reason I keep looking up at the helicopters is my nephew is a flight nurse. And I just worry.

MCGEE: Volcik is one of the lucky ones. Her home wasn't damaged by the blast. But her sister Janette lived behind the plant. And she was home when it exploded.

VOLCIK: She's OK. Her sons got her pulled out. And her husband wasn't home. Their house is - there's nothing there.


MCGEE: Volcik's sister isn't her only family member affected. Her mother lived in a nursing home nearby that was damaged, and her cousins were also displaced. Her story is one heard all over this town of 2800. It's a tight-knit community where generations of family live nearby.

Resident Mark Williams says the explosion destroyed his sister's house.

MARK WILLIAMS: It blew them 10 feet up in the air.


WILLIAMS: But the next-door neighbor - I ain't going to say no names. He went to the hospital. My brother tried to help him. There was blood everywhere.

MCGEE: And in the town of West, if you're not related, Loretta Volcik says you might as well be.

VOLCIK: You know, I may not be kin to everybody in this town, but I'm pretty close. The property right here used to belong to some real good friends of ours and we were family by osmosis.

MCGEE: After the explosion, many who lost homes or were evacuated didn't go to shelters. They were taken in by family and friends. Many residents kept each other company at the Stockyard Cafe off Interstate 35.

Janice Wilcox says the place is a regular hang-out for locals.

JANET WILCOX: It's a comfort zone, kind of like, everybody knows. Might have said I see - you see that show called "Cheers," kind of like? Kind of like everybody knows everybody. Everybody come to see each other and...

MCGEE: She expects the cafe will remain a place where people can go to heal together.

But this week, the community is using religion to cope with what happened. Last night, hundreds of people packed into St. Mary's Church for a candlelight vigil.


MCGEE: Waco resident Cindy McClung came to support relatives whose home had been damaged by the blast. She says the town will recover.

CINDY MCCLUNG: We're Texas. We take care of each other. And we're God-fearing people and we know it's all going to be OK. It's all going to work out fine.

MCGEE: For now, people are still struggling to understand what happened at the fertilizer plant and why. Answers to those questions are still a long way off.

For NPR News, I'm Kate McGee in West, Texas.



So at the end of an astonishing week of news, we're continuing to follow events in Texas. And also, following events overnight in Boston, where police believe they are chasing one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, and that they have killed another. After a series of gunfights, exchanges of fire - even the use of explosives overnight - police say that one police officer has been killed; a transit cop has been wounded.

The suspect described as the Black Hat Suspect from photos and images released yesterday in the bombing, is dead. Another man described as the White Hat Suspect, Suspect Number 2, is still missing at this time. And police are chasing him through the Boston suburbs.

We'll continue to follow this throughout the morning here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate is the education reporter at KUT, covering the Austin Independent School District, public, and higher education in Texas. She got her public radio start at Fordham University's WFUV. Her voice has been heard on the East and West coasts as a reporter and producer for WNYC and KUNR in Reno, Nevada. She has also appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, The Takeaway and more. In her spare time, Kate enjoys discovering new music, traveling and trying local beers.