Four years after West explosion, McMurry player remembers


ABILENE, Texas - Monday marked the four-year anniversary of the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in the tiny town of West, Texas. McMurry's Ethan Blocker remembers the exact date.

"4/17/13. I definitely remember that," said Blocker, a sophomore defensive back who attended West High School.

On the night of the explosion Blocker was on the school bus coming back from the area track meet in College Station.

"Everybody was on their phones and started getting pictures of the flames. Everybody from West was posting it," said Blocker. "The coach that was driving stopped and told us there had been an explosion, and we would stop and pray for the town."

The track team's bus couldn't enter West, and had to stop at a store outside of town and wait for parents to come pick them up. He stayed at his grandparents' house in Ross, about five minutes away.

Nearly 200 people were injured by the explosion with another 15 killed. Hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.

"I had a friend that lived not even a 100 yards from the plant when it exploded. I was calling them and seeing if they were okay too, along with my family."

Blocker knew one of the first responders who was fighting the fire at the plant when ammonium nitrate exploded, killing him.

The middle and high schools were both badly damaged, and it was nearly a week before Blocker could return to school in portable classrooms.

"It was kind of in disbelief. You hear about things happening in other places, but when it hits you personally, it's hard."

Four months after the explosion, the football stadium which had served as a triage center was ready to fill fans instead of victims. The ambulances that were once parked on the grass were gone, and Blocker and the West Trojans suited up for their first game.

"Somehow it was like every other season, but at the same time there was more to play for. You're not only playing for the first game of the season, but also playing for the town."

Blocker says one of the reasons he chose to attend McMurry was it reminds him a lot of West, where his family settled while he was in middle school.

"It made me feel home because it's a small campus. It reminded me of West. Everybody knows everybody."

Four years after the explosion, Blocker says West remains a tight-knit community, but still, that day has changed things.

"You can try to not think about it, but it still happened and it's still going to be in the back of your mind the whole time.

"It's not really something you can forget."