The area surrounding the plant was almost completely decimated, and around 200 people were injured. However, almost all residents escaped with their lives and most of 14 people who died were first responders.
The answers are numerous — luck; quick thinking from those nearby; a railroad track embankment that shielded residents from the explosion; a window of time between the initial, contained fire and the actual explosion, and a siren that alerted people to the fire, leading them to evacuate the area.
Particularly important was the landscape around the plant. One Texas Department of Public Safety official told Reuters that a railroad track embankment along the side of the plant deflected the force of the blast upward and away from the residential area near the plant.
Locals also reacted quickly. The initial fire — reported at 7:29 p.m. — caught the attention of those nearby and caused them to flee or help other evacuate before the explosion about 30 minutes later.
Finally, luck with the weather. In a sermon on Sunday, Roman Catholic Priest Boniface Onjefu pointed out that the community was spared additional harm when a wind pushed the poisonous fumes from the explosion away from town and a light rain cooled down the fire.
"God heard our prayers in West," he said.
The cause of the fire and resulting explosion is still under investigation.
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