West: Mayor awards those instrumental in explosion recovery

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WEST, Texas (KWTX) It's taken more than six years to rebuild after the West Fertilizer Plant Explosion, and now some of the key players in the town's recovery are being honored by the Mayor.

West Mayor-Citizenship Award recipients. (Photo by Rissa Shaw)

"I've been thinking about doing it for a long time, so I figured it was the right time, we've come through the recovery full-strength," said Mayor Tommy Muska.

Muska has been leading the city since that deadly day and wanted to show his gratitude to the familiar faces and unsung heroes who helped the city bounce back.

"I wanted to thank some of the instrumental people involved in the recovery from the moment it happened," he said.

During Tuesday night's city council meeting, Muska gave out 22 Mayor Citizenship Awards for outstanding work and dedication during the city's tragedy and through its recovery.

"It's hard to recognize only a few people because I could give these awards to hundreds of people that did way above their call of duty, but I felt these were the ones that were instrumental in the City of West recovery itself," said Muska.

From federal, state, and local politicians to City of West employees and volunteers, recipients were all over the map.

"6.5 years ago this is what we wanted to see, we wanted to see West whole again, and truly tonight we were able to see that," said Jed Walker, Civil Engineer for the City of West. "West is whole again."

On April 17, 2913, 15 people died and more than 250 were injured in the blast at West Fertilizer Co. that destroyed hundreds of homes and damaged the city's infrastructure.

Walker and his wife Rebecca are two of the lesser-known heroes in the recovery efforts.

"I think my wife really went above and beyond because she did a 100% volunteer job, she took her time out for over six months working every day," said Mr. Walker.

Owner of Walker Partners, the city's civil engineer asked his wife to help the city the same day he went to the state capitol with Muska to ask legislators to help the city.

"I called her a couple days after the explosion as I was going to Austin with Muska and asked her if she could go to city hall and answer phones," said Mr. Walker.

Mr. Walker helped West secure the $8.4 million it needed to fix the city's damaged infrastructure while his wife made sure the town stayed afloat.

"I went and I stayed for about six months just helping out with whatever they needed me to do clerk-wise, answering phones, helping with water bills, just helping out in general," said Rebecca Walker, former City Administrator/Secretary and Water Clerk for the City of West.

She said the awards ceremony was like a family reunion.

"It's so wonderful to see so many familiar faces and people that I got to know from the community--and knowing how hard they worked and how they treasure their city--it's wonderful to see them," said Mrs. Walker.

At least two of the recipients had passed away since the explosion, so their spouses accepted Muska's award on their behalf.

He says the awards, etched in crystal, mean nothing compared to the thought behind them.

"You all deserve a box of gold," Muska told them.

The honorees were treated to a fish dinner at the VFW following the ceremony.