Wednesday, October 9, 2013

West, Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Wrecks Havoc on Nearby Nursing Home

This is part of a special blog series this week, highlighting AHCA/NCAL members who are “emergency heroes” – going above and beyond the call of duty in the face of natural and man-made disasters.

 Photo by: Dallas News 

The day after the Boston Marathon Bombing, on April 17, America’s attention unexpectedly turned to West, Texas, when an ammonium nitrate explosion wreaked havoc at the West Fertilizer Company storage distribution facility.

Shortly before the explosion, West Fertilizer Company workers discovered a fire in the building, and called the local fire department. As first responders arrived and began to douse the building with water, the plant exploded into flames.

At least 15 people perished as a result of the wide-spanning explosion, and more than 160 people were injured. More than 150 buildings were damaged or completely destroyed.

One of those buildings was West Rest Haven (WRH), a nursing home just over 200 yards from the West Fertilizer Company. WRH’s windows shattered, doors were blown off their hinges, and ceilings crumbled, covering and trapping many residents in their beds.

Once WRH staff got word of a fire at the fertilizer plant, they launched into an evacuation drill that they had practiced just two weeks earlier and began moving residents to the side of the nursing home furthest from the plant. A few moments later, the plant exploded.

“All of a sudden, it just blew,” said Lola Millhollin, nurse at WRH in an April news article. “You could feel the force of the blast.”

Monica Sinkule, director of nursing at WRH attested, “We had to literally dig into [residents’] beds to see if anyone was in them.”

Broken glass covered the floor of the building, and water poured from the sprinkler systems. WRH staff knew they needed to get residents out of the building quickly, but transporting them by wheelchair was out of the question, as the hallways were covered in a foot-high mountain of debris. Knowing they had to act quickly, WRH staff picked up residents still in their wheelchairs and waded through the wreckage to carry them outside to safety.

“I ran to the supply closets to get blankets so people there could use them to help carry residents out,” said Rose Ann Morris, administrator at WRH. “Mattresses were thrown across the glass shards on the window sills as a means of removing the residents without further injury.”

“We’ve conducted fire drills, disaster drills, and mock drills on what we would do if the fertilizer plant just yards away from us caught on fire,” said Rose Ann Morris, administrator at WRH in an August news article. “[The evacuation plan] all made perfect sense and looked great on paper, but we quickly learned that no one could have possibly prepared completely for what happened to us that night.”

WRH residents were transported to a football field and gymnastics building on a nearby street. Though several residents had minor injuries and had to be transported to the hospital, only one casualty was reported. Within mere hours of the explosion, most residents had been relocated to 12 other nursing centers. 
 
“Through this whole ordeal, I felt God being there with us,” said Millhollin. “It could have been so much worse, with 130 residents in that place.”

Currently, WRH plans to break ground on a new 120-bed nursing home across the street from the old building early next year. Dispersed residents are anxious to return to WRH.
If you know of an emergency hero you’d like to tell us about, please email AHCAPressOffice@ahca.org.

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