By Simon Gonzalez, Samaritan’s Purse web editor
The first story was amazing, if not even a little miraculous.
Aaron Millhollin was in Iowa, hundreds of miles from his parents’ home in West, Texas, when he suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to call his dad, Jack.
Jack was sitting in his living room, facing a plate glass window—facing the fertilizer plant across the field. He needs an oxygen tank and has limited mobility. But when Aaron called he had to go outside to get better reception.
Moments later, the plant exploded. Jack was thrown about 10 feet across the yard, but was unharmed. Meanwhile, the window near where he had been sitting imploded, sending shards of glass flying into his chair.
“If he was in the house, he would’ve been seriously injured because the glass just went everywhere,” said Lola, Jack’s wife.
A cool story, definitely. But was it a miracle, or a coincidence? And if it was just a coincidence, how do you explain what happened to Brian and Misty, a young couple living virtually in the shadow of the plant?
Brian felt a little guilty because he and Misty hadn’t spent much time together the previous weekend. He proposed a rare Wednesday date night. Misty had coupons for a restaurant in nearby Waco, so plans were made. They still had to make arrangements for their 1-year-old daughter. Keeping the baby’s routine is important, so grandma always came to their house to babysit. But on this night, for reasons they can’t explain, they took her to grandma’s.
A neighbor up the street told them what happened when the plant exploded. The blast hit the house, causing it to combust and collapse. No one would have had time to get out.
When you cover a Samaritan’s Purse disaster response, you expect to hear one or two tales like this. But this one was different. In West, virtually everyone seemed to have a similar story.
Diane was sitting in a recliner when she heard emergency vehicles go by. She stepped outside and saw the smoke and decided to get closer. She was below a raised railroad crossing and behind an ambulance when the plant blew. She was knocked to her knees, but the force of the explosion went over her.
“The ambulance saved my life,” she said.
Meanwhile, the front door that she had locked and deadbolted was blown off the hinges and onto the recliner where she had been sitting.
Miss Earlene Pospisil, an 84-year-old widow, was moving toward her back porch after leaving the utility room. “It sounded like a bomb,” she said. “Then things started flying. The door came flying in. If it had hit me, it would have killed me. Everything in the utility room fell down. I would have got some licks on the head.”
Flor Fuentes was tired and thought about reading in bed. Instead, she decided to spend the evening in the living room with her son. Her other children were at youth group at the church down the street. She suffered a minor injury when a photo frame fell off the wall. But in her bedroom, the ceiling collapsed onto the bed. In the next room, where the other kids would have been on any other night, glass from the windows facing the plant was embedded in the opposite wall.
“At that moment, I thought God was here,” she said.
Make no mistake, what happened in West was tragic. Fourteen people were killed, most of them first-responders trying to extinguish the flames. Jack and Lola and Brian and Misty lost their houses. Miss Earlene and Flor face an uncertain future, not knowing if they’ll be able to return home.
But it could have been—should have been—much worse.
“I know the hand of God kept us safe,” Lola said.
The stories, and reactions like Lois’, were repeated over and over. God was in control of everything, and He was glorified as time and again people thanked Him for being spared.
“Everybody we stopped to pray with understands God has stood in the gap for them,” said Jim Ault, a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer. “They get it.”
Our volunteers reinforced the message by carefully packing away belongings, removing trash, debris, and glass-saturated furniture from houses, taking time to pray and talk with homeowners, and presenting them with Bibles.
Miss Earlene understood.
“He’s not through with me,” she said. “He’s got something else for me to do. God is good.”