By ANGIE ALVARADO
Palestine residents Nina and Havis Tatum and their 10-year-old daughter, Kaleena, watched the horror taking place in the central Texas town of West after a fertilizer plant exploded shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday, rocking the town and causing major damage to dozens of homes, businesses, an apartment complex and a nursing home.
“We sat up and watched it on TV until after midnight,” Nina Tatum said Thursday morning.
Being from the Chicago area, both she and her husband come from a long line of families with police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.
“We just thought, ‘there’s got to be something we can do to help,’” she said.
“Our daughter went up to her room and filled a trash bag with stuffed animals and toys to send to the children,” Havis Tatum said.
She said information about starting a donation drive for the people of West was posted on local radio station KYYK’s Facebook page early Thursday morning, and the response has been great.
Thursday morning, people started arriving at the Tatum’s house at 402 E. Kolstad with supplies including bottled water, diapers, formula, baby bottles, blankets, clothes and shoes, along with cash and check donations.
“One woman pulled out a wad of money and handed it to me, saying that was all she had but she wanted to help,” Havis Tatum said Thursday as he loaded more donations into a trailer.
Items collected included diapers, baby wipes, formula, bottles, dog food (animals found are being taken to a safe shelter), cat food, blankets, clothing (all sizes), water, juice, canned goods, money (checks can be made to American Red Cross, receipts provided) and snacks.
Other people were donating coloring books, colors and books for children affected and displaced by the explosion, which was felt 45 miles away.
The trailer was donated by Ken Cook of Palestine. The Tatums said they were expecting another trailer to arrive to fill with supplies bound for West and were set to leave Palestine with the donations at bout 5 p.m. Thursday.
At about 2:30 p.m., just 30 minutes before the Tatum’s originally planned to depart for West, donations continued to arrive. Volunteers with Living Alternatives donated powdered baby formula, with others donated toys, clothes, water and diapers.
Fernando Varela of All-Star Ford in Palestine brought by a $500 donation for the American Red Cross, and the City of Palestine donated another $150. Both donations brought Nina Tatum to tears.
“The people of Palestine are so great,” Havis Tatum said.
Also, Trinity Valley Community College student Sara Wardell said the Palestine campus will be collecting non-perishable food items for the people of West through next Thursday.
Wardell said she had spoken to a local Red Cross official who was in West with a team of volunteers.
“He said there was a lot of displaced people who would be staying in hospitality homes that would need help,” she said.
Food items and other donations may be taken to the main building on the TVCC campus on Texas Highway 19.
“We will take anything anyone wants to donate, including clothes,” Wardell said. “Anything those people (in West) can use, they can bring here.”
Herald-Press News Editor Mary Rainwater contributed to this story.