West Doctor Revisits Site of April Plant Explosion

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WEST, Texas The cool, April night started with a bedtime story for one of Dr. Jill Beatty's three boys at their West, Texas home, but would end with an event that would change her life forever.

"I felt the house shake and heard a loud boom," said Beatty. "I looked out the window and saw a giant mushroom cloud."

It started with a fire at a fertilizer plant, but soon became much worse. The explosion shook the tiny Texas town to its core, leaving more than a dozen people dead and many more injured.

Beatty, a Texas A&M University graduate, said she knew exactly what she had to do.

"I grabbed my stethoscope and my name badge and ran out the door," said Beatty.

Beatty jumped into her car and made the short trip to the site. Authorities directed her to a place just over 100 yards away from ground zero. She said what she saw there could only be described as a battlefield.

"It was chaos. People were out in the street, there were several people hurt," said Beatty. "You could see they had blood coming from their face, or extremities."

Emergency responders are trained for situations like this, but when the worst-case scenario happens in their own back yard, it's difficult to separate feelings from work. Beatty said she'll never forget happened to her that day.

"I'll remember that chemical smell forever. The sounds of the sirens for the next several nights. When I'd go to sleep, I would hear sirens," said Beatty.

Beatty worked for several hours, assessing patients and preparing them for transport to nearby hospitals. She even pronounced one of the victims dead at the scene.

Months later, Beatty took a trip back to ground zero. The area surrounding the explosion site has been fenced off, and the crater left behind by the explosion has been filled in. Beatty walked up a rocky embankment to the rail road tracks. A strange silence surround the area once at the center of so much chaos.

"It looks so desolate now," said Beatty. "Everything is cleaned up. And you can't imagine the amount of devastation and destruction that was actually here, because it just looks like an empty lot now."

Beatty's mother and father in law's home was a little more than a football field's length from the explosion. Her parents left before things got too bad, but their home was destroyed. The home has since been rebuilt, and the family has plans to spend Thanksgiving there.

Beatty said it's a sign of hope for her town. One that's seen every day around West. The sounds of hammers and saws can be heard on most days. Construction crews work steady to rebuild the broken town.

"It's like the phoenix rising from the ashes," said Beatty. "It's a sign that the town is alive and well."

Beatty said West will survive. She said that terrible day turned into a test for the town.

"I learned that you can't do anything alone. It was a concerted effort among so many people," said Beatty. "Everybody has a job, and everybody did it well."