Sheffield couple in shock after Texas blast

Mary Lyons-Fletcher, who grew up in the Texan town of West,  with  Sheffield-born husband Martin Taylor.
Mary Lyons-Fletcher, who grew up in the Texan town of West, with Sheffield-born husband Martin Taylor.

An American expat watched in horror from her South Yorkshire home as a fertiliser plant blast devastated the town she grew up in.

Mary Lyons-Fletcher’s childhood friends and neighbours are among those who were killed or critically injured in the explosion, which ripped through West, near Waco, in Texas.

The 54-year-old first heard the news in a phone call from her brother hours after it happened.

She and her husband Martin Taylor, also 54, were regular visitors to West to see Mary’s mother, who lived there until her death in December 2011.

The pair, who lived in the US before moving to Martin’s native Sheffield in June last year, looked on in horror as news reports confirmed 14 people had died and 160 others were injured in a blast which has devastated a huge part of the small town.

Mary’s former school classmate, Tommy Muska, the town’s mayor, has led televised tributes.

Mary said: “A very close family friend lives in an area which has been cordoned off.

“She’s all right, but she can’t get back to her house to see the damage.

“My family home is just outside there.

“We haven’t been able to hear whether it’s okay, but we’re hoping it is.

“One of the people critical in hospital is Rob Payne. He’s the director of the funeral home there so he’s a person who touches everybody’s lives. It’s a very close-knit community.

“A lot of the first responders are people I went to school with.

“The fire service is full of volunteers and there is a lot of civic pride there. It’s something they take very seriously.

“When I first saw the news I felt so helpless. I just wanted to be there, to help or do something. I know every little bit of that town. It’s so shocking. We’ve had the news on constantly.”

Many friends have used social networking site Facebook to contact Mary to tell them they are safe.

There are rumours circulating that water from a public swimming pool her grandfather built in the 1940s was used to douse the flames from the blast, as the town suffers from shortages.

Martin said: “Mary knows everyone there. Our phone hasn’t stopped ringing since it happened.”

The couple first met on a blind date when Martin was in the US playing American football. They have been married for 25 years and lived in Dallas, Texas, before moving to New Jersey.

Last year, they decided to make the move to the UK so that Martin could run the Nags Head pub, in Westthorpe Road, Killamarsh.

Problems obtaining a spousal visa mean if Mary were to fly over to see those she knows have been affected by the blast, she would be prevented from getting back into the UK.

She said: “They’re saying on the news if you don’t have a purpose, you shouldn’t go there, but I know I’d want to go back and see it for myself.

“The Killamarsh community and the support they’ve shown me over the visa issue reminds me of West. They really rally round.”

* Rescue workers are continuing to scour through rubble as they assess the scale of the damage caused by the Texas fertiliser plant explosion.

Some of the victims of the blast are still fighting for their lives in hospital following the blast which ripped through the small town of West, around 20 miles north of Waco.

It is thought that 14 people were killed and 160 were injured after the explosion occurred while volunteer firefighters were tackling a blaze at the West Fertiliser Company plant at around 7.50pm local time on Wednesday. Authorities have warned the number could increase.

Local people have compared the incident to a nuclear bomb going off and reports state that it could be felt for miles around. Many people have been left homeless, as scores of houses were destroyed and others have been cordoned off by emergency services picking their way through the debris.

So far no cause has been determined, but rumours are rife that a tank of fertiliser exploded at the site, which is near to a nursing home.

President Barack Obama said: “A tight-knit community has been shaken, and good, hard-working people have lost their lives.”