Last Displaced West Residents Return Home This Weekend, But Not To Stay

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WEST (April 26, 2013)--Residents of the most heavily damaged area of West can return to their homes this weekend, but not to stay, and for some the homecoming will be bittersweet; of the 156 homes in the neighborhood, only three are fit for habitation.

This sign appears in the window in one of the areas to which residents have been allowed to return. (Photo by John Carroll)

(City Of West Website)

The area will be reopened to residents from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Vanek told News 10 Friday evening.

Access times for Monday and Tuesday will be determined later, he said.

Residents will be allowed to remove valuables, clothing and small items from their homes, but not large items such as furniture, he said, and they won’t be allowed to stay.

Streets have been cleared, but debris remains in yards and Vanek urged residents to use common sense in dressing for the return.

“No shorts and no flip-flops,” he said.

Two staging areas will be used this weekend.

Residents who have trailers should take the Interstate 35 access road to Marable Street where a checkpoint will be set up, he said.

Residents without trailers should continue north past the old radio tower to Grady Calvery Road where a second checkpoint will be set up.

A maximum of four vehicles will be allowed for each address, he said.

(Map Showing Staging Areas (Large file; may take a few seconds to load))

Urban search and rescue personnel will be in the area to assist residents of heavily damaged homes and there will be a strong local, state and federal law enforcement presence to ensure security.

Meanwhile Friday evening, West Councilman Brian Muska said water service has been restored to neighborhoods between Oak and Spring Streets, where damage is less severe, but a boil order remains in effect for the entire community.

He credited the City of Waco for providing help to restore service to the area between Oak and Spring.

Water remains off in the area north of Spring Street took the heaviest hit from the deadly April 17 explosion at West Fertilizer Co., but could be restored soon, he said.

Officials said earlier that 70 of the homes in the area are unsafe to live in, although residents will be allowed to enter to retrieve personal items, but 84 more are so badly damaged that residents won’t even be allowed to do that.

Many are anxious to see their homes and to start rebuilding.

"This is the first time in eight days that we were told that we would be able to go in to our homes," resident Brian Padgett said.

"All we want is to go and see it."

Lillian Hannes, 82, says she's hoping she can retrieve her valuables.

"I'd like to get all of my photos, especially the ones of my husband and our wedding pictures," Hannes said.

"The cross that was in his casket is hanging up in my bedroom and I really hope that I can get it."

The city has posted a report at the West Public Library that details the damages at each residential address in the area.

Residents began registering to return to the area on Thursday and registration continued Friday.

They’re being given decals to put on their vehicles so they can enter the area once the city opens it up.

They’ll be allowed to take in a total of four vehicles per address.

In all, there are about 350 homes in the 37-block area of West affected by the massive fertilizer plant explosion.

Two of the three sections of the blast-affected area from Oak Street north to Spring Street were allowed to return to their homes last weekend.

The first section, from Walnut Street five blocks south to Oak Street, was reopened Saturday and the area from Walnut Street to Spring Street was reopened Sunday.

The Insurance Council of Texas, an insurance industry trade group, said Wednesday losses from the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West will likely exceed $100 million.

Insurance Council of Texas spokesman Mark Hanna said Wednesday that insured losses after the explosion in West included dozens of damaged homes, businesses and cars as well as the costs of resettling displaced residents.

Last week's explosion at West Fertilizer Co. left a crater 90 feet wide and totaled nearby homes and buildings, leaving 15 dead and about 200 injured.

It destroyed a two-story apartment building, and heavily damaged a nursing home and three of West’s four schools.

West Intermediate School was damaged beyond repair and officials are assessing whether the town’s middle and high schools can be repaired.

(West: Information For Residents, Numbers To Call, Ways To Help)

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(City Of West Website)

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DPS troopers continued to block off the area north of Spring Street where the heaviest damage is concentrated. (Photo by John Carroll)