By Kirk Ihlenburg
Imagine if you will this scene. You are at home with your children. It is the end of the day, dinner is just finished, homework is underway, you are folding laundry while watching your favorite program, and your husband has just called to say he will be home soon. In the distance you can hear sirens. Then you notice that there is more than one emergency vehicle racing to its destination. As the sirens grow louder you realize that where ever they are heading is close. You step out into the front lawn, followed by your two children, and see a fire a 1/4 mile away. Your neighbors, like you, have come out of their homes to see what the commotion is about. You call your husband on his cell phone to let him know the fertilizer plant is on fire. No sooner do you say the words, the building explodes.
This was the scene for many people in the small town of West, TX on April 17, 2013. On that day, the 70 year old fertilizer plant exploded and caused immense destruction to this town. In an instant homes were destroyed and lives were lost. It was a tragic event that is still very real for the people of West today.
The story told above is real. The people in this story were knocked down by the force of the explosion and their home, that stood 20 feet behind them, was destroyed. Windows were shattered, doors were blown in and the roof was crumpled. The damaged was varied but all of it was beyond belief. This is what the family witnessed, in disbelief and confusion, as they picked themselves up off the front lawn.
To this day, the town is struggling to get back on its feet. Homes are condemned, two schools need to be torn down, financial help is insufficient and lives have been changed by the loss of loved ones.
I witnessed this first hand on a trip to West last month. My reason for attending was simple. Many players and families in our softball community were affected by this tragedy. Some lost homes, some lost family members, but all were touched by this event. I joined Scott Gilpin, Program Director for FCA Softball and Head Coach at ACU, in providing new softball gear and participating in a day of softball. Our intention was to provide a little relief and fun on the diamond for a few hours.
At no point was I prepared for what I saw. Two and a half months after the explosion, I expected to see new construction and a town returning to normal. What I witnessed was one new home being built and an entire street that has remained untouched since the explosion. Demolition is underway, but the need for help is greater than the supply.
Despite this situation, I met people who had not lost their faith and were banding together to support each other. There were tears from some as they shared their story of what happened that day, but I did not hear one person complain. It is a town filled with hope.
As I reflect on the visit to West, TX, I cannot help but realize that this tragedy could happen anywhere. In a matter of seconds lives were changed. In the days that followed many people have stepped in to lend a hand and build hope. As a softball community, we too can step in to help when events like this happen in the future.
West, TX may be a small town, but at the core, there are examples of the very ideals that we will celebrate this week in the United States. I went to TX to encourage and lend support to members of our softball community. I came home with the blessing of seeing true hope alive and well in a town knocked down, but not out.
Let’s help the great people of West, Texas together. Please comment to this blog post, so we can share ideas on how to help. An account is being set up in Texas to help the people of West. Please email us at weRunited@ringor.com for the details.
Kirk Ihlenburg is the CEO of Ringor.