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With homes shattered, students return to school in West, Texas

Residents have returned to a Texas town cratered by a massive fertilizer plant explosion that ripped open an apartment complex, damaged a school, and collapsed a nursing home, killing 14 people and injuring 200 more.

It is still not clear what caused the initial fire that sparked the explosion on April 17 in West, Texas.

About 1,500 students from the tiny town near Waco, Texas will go back to school in makeshift classrooms or a neighboring district on Monday. For many, the damage at home will take longer to repair.

“Every time I close my eyes, all I can think about is the explosion,” West High School senior Edi Botello said. “People running around. People evacuating. There was one point I couldn’t even talk. I just stuttered.”

Those who lived close to the West Fertilizer Company plant say they were lucky to escape with their lives – but putting them back together will take time.

“I don’t think they can fix it, we have ceilings down,” quoted David Polansky as saying, referring to his family’s home. “My mother died in 2002, and that feeling is almost the same, you’re just crushed to see all this.”

Officials have opened what is known as Zone 2, a four-block area close to the plant, on Sunday. The area closest to the plant remains closed. Residents in the least damaged homes were allowed back Saturday night, with a curfew in place.

“What can you say?” said resident Jimmy Polansky, who claims his house was targeted by looters.

Investigators said they have found no evidence of criminal activity in the blast that tore through West just before 8 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

That’s a small comfort to resident Dee Dablin. The walls of her home about a half mile from the plant remain standing, but the inside of is wrecked.

“It’s unbelievable, just unbelievable,” Dablin said. “But I’m alive, that’s all. I’m alive.”

The roof of an apartment building that sat across a strip of railroad tracks from the fertilizer plant was collapsed, the structure’s windows blown out, and debris scattered for hundreds of yards.

“Several blocks we had projectiles or shrapnel that has been found of different sizes,” assistant state fire marshal Kelly Kistner said, according to “Smaller pieces have been found blocks away.”

The displaced congregation of the First Baptist Church in West held prayer services in a field on Sunday as the town took in the full extent of the damage.

“None of this makes sense. It is frightening, it is surreal,” Pastor John Crowder said at the service, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. “Do you feel like I do, that we’re walking through a science fiction movie?”