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United in adversity: West, Texas, prays for Boston, which sends pizzas to West

As refugees in West, Texas waited to return to homes devastated by a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant, their talk, concern, and prayers turned to the terrorist attack in Boston. 'I've never been to Boston,' one Texan commented, 'but now I really want to go. It seems like a cool city.'

By Staff writer / April 20, 2013

West, Texas, mayor pro tem Steve Vanek talks to the media in front of city hall Saturday, three days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant Wednesday night killed as many as 14 people and injured more than 160.

Charlie Riedel/AP

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WEST, Texas

Lauretta Cvikel has her own problems. On Wednesday, she was knocked over by the explosion at West Fertilizer Plant, noting, "I never thought I'd be able see air move!" For another 20 minutes "that felt like forever" she didn't know the whereabouts of her pre-teen son, Allen, who was eventually found safe.

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But as Ms. Cvikel tells her dramatic story, her thoughts suddenly wander eastward and to the North, to a manhunt and citywide lock down in Boston, which ended several hours later. Even as West continued to tally its casualties and homeless residents wandered around in their trucks, she noted, "I can't imagine what people in Boston are going through. We've been praying for them too."

Such reciprocal sympathies toward the end of inarguably the worst week of the year – terror bombs, ricin letters, rural explosions, shootouts and manhunts – also rubbed off on President Obama, who took a few minutes during his remarks on the capture of the Boston bomb suspect to mention the residents of West, Texas, saying, "We've also seen a tight-knit community in Texas devastated by a terrible explosion."

The phenomenon was in many ways natural: Victims of circumstance and tragedy easily empathize with others going through hard times. But it also pointed to a unique sense of national solidarity wrought by chaos and resolved by a sense of hope. "We are only beginning to make sense of a series of events that moved so fast, so furiously as to almost defy attempts to figure them out," explains Jesse Washington of the Washington Post.

Some here in West wondered how CNN's Anderson Cooper could have materialized in Boston only hours after leaving West, but there was little bitterness about the drift in national attention. If anything, residents of central Texas cheered the capture of the surviving bomb suspect because it buoyed their spirits as much as those of the applauding crowds on the streets of Watertown, clapping as police drove through.

Texas State Trooper Bryan Washko toured what he called "war zone" devastation early Friday before setting up a road block into a neighborhood knocked over by the Wednesday night explosion.

But even as the Killeen-based trooper ached for the plight of fellow Texans, he said he'd spent most of his shift listening to NPR’s coverage of the Thursday night manhunt and shootout that led to one of the suspects – two Chechen brothers – being killed and the other one, the younger brother, somehow escaping the grasp of police. 

While repairing his family's own damaged BBQ joint and listening to stories about who was hurt or killed in West, one burly, goateed resident, using an iPhone police scanner app, followed the Boston manhunt in real-time as police commands out of Watertown echoed across the Internet and into a kitchen in West.

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