The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

April 20, 2013

Texas town grieves for dead first-responders

WEST, Texas — Buck Uptmor didn’t have to go to West Fertilizer Co. when the fire started. He wasn’t a firefighter like his brother and cousin, who raced toward the plant. But a ranch of horses next to the flames needed to be moved to safety.

“He went to help a friend,” said Joyce Marek, Uptmor’s aunt. “And then it blew.”

Two days after the fertilizer facility exploded in a blinding fireball, authorities announced Friday that they had recovered 14 bodies, confirming for the first time an exact number of people killed. Grieving families quickly started planning burials.

Ten of the dead were first-responders — including five from the West Volunteer Fire Department and four emergency medics, West Mayor Tommy Muska said.

The dead included Uptmor and Joey Pustejovsky, the city secretary who doubled as a member of the West Volunteer Fire Department. A captain of the Dallas Fire Department who was off-duty at the time but responded to the fire to help also died.

The explosion was strong enough to register as a small earthquake and could be heard for many miles across the Texas prairie. It demolished nearly everything for several blocks around the plant. More than 200 people were hurt, and five people remained hospitalized Friday.

The first-responders “knew it was dangerous. They knew that thing could go up at any time,” said Ronnie Sykora, who was Pustejovsky’s deacon at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church. “But they also knew that if they could extinguish that fire before it went up, that they could save tens of lives, hundreds of lives. That’s why they were in there.”

Following a tour of the rubble Friday, Gov. Rick Perry told reporters the search-and-rescue phase for anyone still trapped was largely finished. He said the state would offer help to the 29-member local fire department that had been “basically wiped out.”

“To the first-responders: I cannot say thank you enough,” Perry said.

Earlier in the day, Edward Smith, a volunteer chaplain for the Dallas Police Department, counseled firefighters at West’s fire station.

“Right now, the general public might be saying, ‘Well, why aren’t they talking about this?”’ Smith said of the firefighters. “They don’t necessarily even want to talk about it. They’re holding out hope.”

In a town of just 2,800 people, everyone here knew someone affected by the explosion.

Officials offered reassurances Friday about the 60 or so people listed as unaccounted for after the blast. McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said many people on the list probably lost their homes and have simply been hard to locate since the Wednesday evening accident.

“I think we’re going to eliminate 99 percent” of those listed, he said.

The fertilizer facility stores and distributes anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer that can be injected into soil. It also mixes other fertilizers.

Plant owner Donald Adair released a statement saying he would never forget the “selfless sacrifice of first-responders who died trying to protect all of us.”

One of the plant employees was also killed responding to the fire, Adair said.

Federal investigators and the state fire marshal’s office planned to begin inspecting the blast site Friday to collect evidence that may point to a cause.

Franceska Perot, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said investigators would begin at the perimeter of the explosion and work inward toward the destroyed fertilizer company.

Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz, who toured the town Friday, said they would wait for more information about the explosion before considering whether there should be more regulation of anhydrous ammonia.

The accident forever changed the community’s landscape. An apartment complex was badly shattered, a school set ablaze and a nursing home left in ruins. At West Intermediate School, which was close to the blast site, all of the building’s windows were blown out, as well as the cafeteria.

Marek was teaching a high school youth group when the blast shook the room. The lights went out, and a student’s phone lit up with a text message that there was an explosion at the fertilizer plant. He told Marek his brother’s truck had been picked up and hurled into his family’s house.

Marek spent the next couple of hours wondering if she knew anyone who might be at the plant. Then Uptmor’s wife called.

“She said, ‘Have you heard from Buck? She told me they had called him up there, and she couldn’t get a hold of him,” Marek said.

They spent the next few hours frantically searching for the father of three, who coached baseball, played drums in a band and whose phone was always ringing with people seeking help. Sometimes it was a truck stuck in a ditch or a house that flooded or a neighbor who needed a hand moving furniture.

Every time, Marek said, Uptmor would go.

“Why did they have to call him? He was safe at home with his family,” Marek said. “But you know, if he hadn’t gone, he wouldn’t have been Buck.”

1
Text Only
World, nation, state
  • Poll finds Clinton trouncing entire GOP field

    Hillary Clinton isn’t only the strong front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, but she’s well ahead of every potential Republican rival, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.
     

    April 16, 2014

  • Ukraine bares teeth against eastern uprising

    In the first Ukrainian military action against a pro-Russian uprising in the east, government forces repelled an attack Tuesday by about 30 gunmen at an airport, beginning what the president called an “anti-terrorist operation” to try to restore authority over the restive region.
     

    April 16, 2014

  • U.N. Security Council sees grim images of Syrian dead

    The U.N. Security Council fell silent Tuesday after ambassadors viewed a series of ghastly photographs of dead Syrian civil war victims, France’s ambassador said. The pictures showed people who were emaciated, with their bones protruding, and some bearing the marks of strangulation and repeated beatings, and eyes having been gouged out.

    April 16, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia causing Ukraine unrest

    The White House on Monday said there was “overwhelming evidence” that Russia is fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, but suggested that President Barack Obama has not yet concluded that Vladimir Putin’s actions warrant broader sanctions on key Russian economic sectors.

    April 15, 2014

  • Woman arrested after dead babies found

    A Utah woman accused of killing seven babies she gave birth to over 10 years was arrested Sunday after police discovered the tiny bodies stuffed in separate cardboard boxes in the garage of her former home.

    April 14, 2014

  • Rome man killed in crash

    The Ohio State Highway Patrol Chardon Post is investigating a fatal crash that took place just after midnight Sunday.

    April 14, 2014

  • 3 dead in shootings at Kansas facilities

    Three people died Sunday when a gunman opened fire outside the Jewish Community Center and a senior living facility in Johnson County, Kan.

    April 14, 2014

  • High fees eroding many 401(k) accounts

    It’s the silent enemy in our retirement accounts: High fees.
    And now a new study finds that the typical 401(k) fees — adding up to a modest-sounding 1 percent a year — would erase $70,000 from an average worker’s account over a four-decade career compared with lower-cost options. To compensate for the higher fees, someone would have to work an extra three years before retiring.

    April 14, 2014

  • Abortion in cases of rape: New rifts in old debate

    Poll after poll over many years has shown that Americans overwhelmingly support legal access to abortion for women impregnated by rape. Yet the issue remains divisive, as demonstrated by two current rifts — one involving U.S. aid policy overseas, the other highlighting strategy differences within the U.S. anti-abortion movement.

    April 13, 2014

  • Ohio geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.

    April 12, 2014

House Ads
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
AP Video