Tears, Courage and New Beginnings

Andrea Nedorostova was born and raised in the second biggest city of Czech Republic called Brno. Playing tennis competitively her whole life brought her to the United States when she received a scholarship to attend Northwestern State University of Louisiana. Upon graduation with a bachelor's degree in communication, she moved to Austin, TX to pursue a master's degree in journalism at The University of Texas at Austin.

When she visited West, she immediately felt like she belonged. West residents treated her like one of their own. Andrea was captivated by their kindness, and mainly, by the way they handled a difficult time in life. As an aspiring journalist, she realized the story of West's recovery had to be told.

This is the second part in a two-part series about the people of West inspired by the resilience and strength they found within their small enchanting community.

Tears, Courage and New Beginnings: Fertilizer plant explosion and its impacts through the eyes of Bettye, a realtor from West

Jake Tucker, 87, had been staying in a nursing home in West, Texas, for about a year, suffering from dementia. His 83-year-old wife Bettye never missed a chance to kiss him goodnight. On the evening of April 17, 2013, she devotedly visited her husband, and then headed home to do her routine chores. Bettye's home was only three blocks away from the nursing home, which enabled her to frequently visit her beloved husband. As she walked home through the neighborhood, she had no idea that in a few hours her life would be turned upside down.

Bettye got home and started multitasking. In between trying to figure out what to cook for supper and washing clothes, she stepped outside to check the mailbox and saw a large cloud of black smoke rising skyward above the city's downtown area. Immediately, she feared the apartment complex she and her husband had built in 1978 had gone up in flames. On her way to check on her property, however, Bettye realized it was the local fertilizer plant that was on fire. Fearing what that might mean, since her house was so close to the facility, she quickly headed back home and got inside. As she walked down her hallway, the plant exploded. Her whole house shook and a big piece of sheetrock fell on top of her. It hit her on the head but it protected her, too. As Bettye struggled to free herself, her neighbor ran through what used to be the Tucker's front door to come to her aid. Bettye asked him where were his shoes, and he replied: "It's alright, I had to get you out."

Slowly, the citizens of West emerged from their homes, or what was left of them, and stood surveying the damage as the shock settled in. For Bettye, though, the immediate concern was not her house, but her husband and whether he had survived the blast. Rushing back to the nursing home, she discovered, to her dismay that some patients were stuck in the middle part of the building. She was relieved, however, to find Jake's room in the back of the facility, which was easier to access. Bettye stuck her head through the window and asked Jake if he was all right. When he did not reply, she yelled: "Jake! Jake! Answer me! Are you OK?" Finally Jake said: "Yeah." Bettye felt relieved but there was no time to waste because the building could collapse any minute. A couple of men on the scene helped her to get Jake and his wheelchair out. Then, Bettye pushed him to a triage area where the emergency personnel, who were now swarming the area, took care of him. Later on, he was transported to a nursing home in Whitney. Bettye had to stay in West and deal with the aftermath of the catastrophe.

Bettye was not allowed back in her house for about 10 days after the explosion while the police were trying to make sure that it was safe to return. They also tried to prevent people from stealing. When Bettye finally got a chance to go back, she saw the devastation. Almost everything in her house was destroyed. She lost all furniture, and all of her dishes got broken, including pieces that used to be her mother's. "These things are gone and I just have to accept that," Bettye said. Her cars were destroyed, and her house was heavily damaged. But that was not the end of her loses: "I rent about 20 houses in West, and every one of them had some kind of damage," she said. Also, her 22-unit apartment complex was destroyed.

"Two people were killed inside the apartments, and several hurt," said Bettye, who is a realtor. "We discovered one lady that we couldn't account for and we just knew that she didn't survive. Another guy was outside watching the fire, and he got the full blast of the explosion. Then, there was a girl standing by the window and the glass went all over her, she had a really bad burn and ended up with thousand little stitches because the glass cut her. There was a man with her, and a piece of glass hit him in the eye, so he is blind now. It's just terrible that it happened to him because he was just visiting."

After such a tragedy, numerous people decided to leave West. Despite her age, Bettye chose to rebuild. Even though it was a dilemma for her to decide, living in West for 63 years made her decision easier. "My neighbor next-door was rebuilding," Bettye said. "And she told me she was so glad to see that I was rebuilding because we have been neighbors for 40 years." Bettye said that before people started rebuilding, driving through the neighborhood was depressing, but seeing the other houses being built helped her decide that she wanted her house back. And most importantly, she wanted her husband back in West, so she could visit him every day like she used to.

But Jake's return has to be put on hold until a new facility will be built. There are plans for a new nursing home that should be finished by summer 2015. "I brought my husband to the groundbreaking ceremony," Betty said. "Even though he has dementia, I know that he enjoyed it." Bettye said that she and her husband Jake are excited that after 63 years of marriage, there are still new beginnings to look forward to. "I never even considered leaving West," she says. "This is home."

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