West residents assessing damage after being allowed back into homes

POSTED: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 2:12pm
UPDATED: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 2:13pm

Two phases of reentry have allowed west residents, in certain areas, to go back to their homes since they were forced to evacuate after the explosion.

Those living from Oak Street to Spring Street are the latest to get clearance to go home. They are under a curfew from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., just like those who were allowed into Phase one, which includes Walnut Street to Oak Street. Homeowners may only have two cars in the area, none of which can be larger than a pickup truck.

Ted Helm, the owner of Helm’s Rentals, is one of the many people who was out in West on Monday, assessing property damage from last Wednesday's explosion.

"I don't see how it could be salvageable. It's just got so much damage, structure underneath, structure in the ceilings, all the doors, the floors. And, it was an old house to begin with," said Helm.

One the rental houses he owns is located in Phase two of the reentry zone, about a mile or so from the blast site. Helm was just allowed access Sunday afternoon.

"I was just shocked that I was this far away from the blast, and I had that much damage," said Helm.

Helm says most of the homes in the town were built at least 20 years ago.

"Four or five houses are built here a year new, and now there's going to be a hundred or two hundred homes that's going to have to be built, rebuilt for the people who live here. It's going to be terrible," said Helm.

A survivor of the explosion gave KWKT footage of the damage done to the nursing home and apartment complex. That person wishes to remain anonymous.

While many residents are being allowed to return home, many are saying there's a lingering loneliness in the air.

"When you talk about loneliness, I can't even begin to imagine how lonely some of these people are," said William Burch.

Burch moved to West in August 2012 with his wife Steffanie. Together, they rescued dozens of those injured at the Rest Haven Nursing Home.

"The patients were screaming because they were hurt. I mean there was not one that came out of the wings that I was in that didn't have blood on them. There were several times when you would walk into a room, and you wouldn't see a patient because there would be an entire sheet of sheetrock, a four by eight sheet lying on top of them," said William.

For Steffanie, the experience reminded her of her 16 years in the military where she's served as Air Medical Evacuation Technician.

"When this happened, it kind of brought all that to reality, right back home," said Steffanie.

The devastation brings back memories of her time in Iraq.

"Being overseas, and serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, I mean it literally looks like a war zone," said Steffanie.

"People ask us why did we go in. We went in because we had to. While other people ran out, we ran in," said William.

Since the explosion, the Burch's have helped provide meals for first responders and law enforcement officials. They just hope in the coming months that help will continue to pour in for those living in West.

"They are a strong community. But, it doesn't matter how strong you are. You've got to have more help," said William.


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