Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Visit to ground zero a sickening experience

West - The closest you can legally visit the detonation point of the chemical blast that rocked West so hard the ground shook in Hillsboro and the sound of the explosion was heard in Waco is a children's pocket park next door to a totally demolished apartment complex.

Its location is just across the railroad embankment from the devastated buildings and blending facility at the West Fertilizer Co.

A jungle gym and swing sets made of rough-cut 4x4 lumber are splintered from the blast. The pea gravel surface of the playground is littered with blackened debris from the plant – bits of composition roofing, splintered wood, small shards of metal.

Light poles are snapped off like broken pencils, just above ground level. An underground telephone cable box is splintered, its metal casing leveled and ripped nearly from the ground.

Had children been playing in this area, they would surely have perished in the blast, their bodies hurled, burned by the blast and the intense ball of fire. 

A retirement home for elderly where 3 died in the collapse
Oddly enough, it's only the man-made structures that were devastated, shaken off their foundations, their walls cracked, timbers splintered.

Trees - oak, ash, hackberry, pecan - all survived, seemingly unscathed.

There is an overwhelming stench of chemicals, which becomes overpowering as one climbs the playground equipment to an elevation just above the height of the railroad embankment, just across the parking lot.

The sensation is instant.

As the breeze takes hold, an eye-watering, stomach-turning assault of the sinuses and eyes grips one; the only thing to do is get away from the searing, obnoxious sensations caused by the burned chemicals that have soaked the soil at ground zero.

It's in the dirt, in the air, the vegetation. Breathing and functioning downwind is an ordeal.

A headache persists for the rest of the day. It's a phenomenon one notices as soon as exposure to the vapors begins.

Heaps of twisted, burned metal lie awaiting transport to a debris disposal land fill – the nearest one is at Itasca, a commercial land-fill that services the solid waste disposal needs for communities throughout the area, according to FEMA officials who consulted with McLennan County Commissioners.

Investigators have yet to take questions as to what will be done with the contaminated soil, if it will be incinerated in a hazardous waste disposal facility to prevent drinking water contamination.

Large, once cylindrical tanks, which ruptured, are misshappen from the explosions. They look like giant beer cans exploded by firecrackers, their seams ripped wide open, their once cylindrical shape distorted from the huge and rapid expansion of gases generated by the explosion.

Oddly enough, there are many anhydrous ammonia tanks parked in the area, undamaged, their paint still pristine, grain trailers and fertilizer spreaders similarly undamaged, as well as semi-tractors and other motorized equipment.

Officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other investigators for the State Fire Marshal's Office will disclose their findings on Thursday at a time and place as yet undesignated.

Key questions: What was the point of origin of the fire that at first menaced the facility, its cause and source of heat. Secondly, from where, precisely, where did the explosion emanate?

The world is waiting, and its people have a need to know.

According to the statutes that govern dissemination of public information, the records of such findings belong to the people – we the people – not the government officials who serve as custodians of record.

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