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Signs Of Healing In Texas Town A Year After Deadly Plant Blast


WEST, Texas, April 17 (Reuters) - Still healing from multiple broken bones after the force of a deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant lifted him out of his boots a year ago, one first responder has begun to address the anguish of losing his team members.

Volunteer firefighter Robert Payne said there were challenges to recovering from the April 17, 2013 blast that killed 15 people, most of them first responders, that went far beyond physical rehabilitation.

"Right now, I'm just dealing with the mental aspect of it, the emotional aspect, both of those things I've put off until the very end," said Payne, who is missing a few teeth and suffers nerve damage to his right shoulder.

In many ways, the tiny, central Texas city of West looks much like it did before the fertilizer plant explosion leveled the surrounding neighborhood and injured hundreds.

Drivers pull off busy Interstate 35 to stop at the local bakery to pick up kolaches - fruit-filled Czech pastries - and get their gas tanks topped up at filling stations where attendants clean their windshields and engage in casual banter.

But the sounds of drilling and hammering on the residential north side of town and the sight of pickup trucks hauling wood, bricks and sheetrock are a reminder that the town is still rebuilding after the blast that killed a dozen first responders racing to contain a blaze that caused an estimated $100 million in damages.

Texas Governor Rick Perry said late Wednesday the state will award West an additional $4.8 million to repair the city's infrastructure, including its water treatment and storage, on top of the $3.2 million in disaster relief already received.

"Last year's tragedy touched the lives of every member of the West community, and touched the hearts of all Texans," Perry said in a statement. "These recovery funds will help the people of West rebuild their lives and invest in the future of their community."