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April 19, 2013

HAYNES: West, Texas a tiny town with outsized reputation


I first found out about the explosion from my mother, who was watching breaking news coverage on one of the Dallas television channels, about 90 minutes north of West. She texted information to me for a good half hour before CNN, MSNBC or any of the other cable channels picked up the news.

Unable to see the video coverage and first-hand accounts, I didn’t have a good sense of the magnitude of the situation until I received the following from my mother: “They’re saying 60 dead, 100 injured so far. Not official.”

The initial death toll turned out — at least so far, thank God — higher than a still-staggering number, but I’m not ashamed to admit my eyes filled with tears as the updates came pouring in over my phone.

But still, even one death as a result of this devastating explosion cuts at the heart of most Texans. Along the I-35 corridor — and maybe throughout the entire state — West is the most well-known town of its size in Texas.

It’s not JUST a pit stop, it’s beloved by the people of its state. West is an integral part of Texas culture, just like really spicy food, fields of bluebonnets in springtime and a warm smile to a stranger. In my family, it’s a crime if you pass through the town and don’t stop to pick up a variety of treats to share with everyone back home.

West is also an anomaly. Not many cities or neighborhoods in Texas have such strong cultural ties to another part of the world — at least not to the extent that Western New York does. Many Texans are simply Texans. I have to go back several generations before I can even find an ancestor who came from another country.

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