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Former Palos Hills man killed in Texas plant explosion

Part destroyed nursing home thresulted from an explosiWest Fertilizer plant Sunday April 21 2013 West Texas. The massive explosiWest Fertilizer

Part of a destroyed nursing home that resulted from an explosion at the West Fertilizer plant, on Sunday, April 21, 2013, in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed 14 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, Michael Ainsworth, Pool)

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Updated: May 24, 2013 6:19AM



A former Palos Hills resident was among the first responders who died last week after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, authorities said.

Professional organizations and family and friends on Sunday identified four of the first responders who died, including Kevin Sanders, who worked with West Emergency Medical Services and another area volunteer fire department.

Sanders once lived in Palos Hills and was a member of Sacred Heart Church, according to the church.

The other three responders who were killed were identified as brothers Doug and Robert Snokhous, both firefighters with the West Volunteer Fire Department, and Jerry Chapman, a firefighter with the Abbott Volunteer Fire Department.

The First Baptist Church in West was still off limits Sunday, so the Rev. John Crowder put folding chairs in a hay pasture and improvised a pulpit on a truck flatbed. At the elementary school, an official carted extra desks and chairs into the only public school campus that’s left.

Four days after the blast in the small town killed 14 people and injured about 200 others, residents prayed for comfort and got ready for the week ahead — some of them still waiting to find out when, or if, they will be able to go back home.

“We have lost our friends and neighbors. We lost the safety and comfort of our homes,” said Crowder, raising his voice over the whir of helicopters surveying the nearby rubble from overhead. “But as scary as this is, we don’t have to be afraid.”

Six firefighters and four emergency medics were among the dead, and local officials announced that a memorial service would be held Thursday at Baylor University.

The explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. rocketed shrapnel across several blocks and left what assistant state fire marshal Kelly Kirstner described Sunday as a “large crater.”

A section of the farming town near the crater, including Crowder’s church, is still behind barricades.

One school was obliterated, and on the eve of 1,500 students returning to class for the first time since Wednesday’s blast, school Supt. Marty Crawford said the high school and middle school could also be razed.

Nearly 70 federal and state investigators are still trying to determine what caused the fire that set off the explosion, Kirstner said. Authorities say there are no signs of criminal intent.

Robert Champion, the special agent in charge of the Dallas office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said experts plan to enter the crater in the next few days and start digging in search of an explanation.

“It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there,” Champion said.

Contributing: Donna Vickroy



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