Local Initiatives

Texas Co-ops Aid Blast Victims

By Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: April 23rd, 2013

Two electric cooperatives have joined efforts to aid victims of the deadly fertilizer plant explosion that rocked part of central Texas.

A damaged apartment complex is seen Sunday, April 21, 2013, four days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. (AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, Michael Ainsworth, Pool)

A damaged apartment complex is seen Sunday, April 21, 2013, four days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. (AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, Michael Ainsworth, Pool)

The plant and the surrounding farming town of West are served by an investor-owned utility, but co-op lines located within a half-mile of the blast site serve members of HILCO Electric Cooperative.

“All of the homes directly behind the fertilizer plant are served by HILCO. Eight homes that were served by the co-op are completely gone,” said Debra A. Cole general manager and CEO of the Itasca-based co-op.

The April 17 explosion, fueled by chemicals including anhydrous ammonia, occurred as volunteer firefighters battled a blaze at the West Fertilizer Company. The blast jolted the community with the force of a 2.1 magnitude earthquake and the rumbling boom was heard 45 miles away. At least 14 people were killed and more than 200 others injured. At least 80 buildings, including a 50-unit apartment complex, were destroyed.

HILCO co-op staffers quickly helped residents of a nursing home relocate to a nursing facility in Itasca, not far from the co-op’s headquarters, said Cole. “We got a list of what was needed and took shoes and clothes to all of the residents, because most did not have anything when they were evacuated.”

Cole said HILCO employees were looking at gathering food to donate, as well. “We’re also collecting gift cards, along with others in the community, and helping to raise as much money for long-term relief as we can.”

For one Pedernales Electric Cooperative staffer, the depth of the tragedy was felt personally. Karl Keel is one of the co-op’s construction/service supervisors. In addition to losing some of his friends, his brother suffered injuries and lost his home in the blast.

So moved by the devastation, he posted an item on the electronic bulletin board section of the company’s Intranet. “He simply said, ‘Please pray for my family and friends, who are experiencing a tremendous tragedy back home,’” according to Anne Harvey, communications manager of the Johnson City-based cooperative. “Immediately, the post received offers of support from co-workers across PEC’s 8,000 square-mile service territory.”

Within an hour, employees were sending contributions of money and gift cards to PEC’s Oak Hill office and asking what other services were needed, Harvey said.

Keel plans to provide a list to his 700 Pedernales co-workers of what victims need most, according to Harvey. “He is prepared to take a trailer full of donated items when he returns to West later [this] week, and our thoughts are with everyone in the community.”

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