WEST (CBS 11 NEWS) – The tragic fire and explosion in the town of West, McClennen County, not only leveled homes near the fertilizer plant, it also damaged houses as far as a mile-and-a-half away.

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People who survived the blast tell CBS 11 News that originally, what they thought they heard was nothing more than the storm.  But a split second later, their worlds were turned upside-down.

“At first, it just sounded like a big thunder clapping,” said Sandra Grmela, but then her kitchen suddenly went topsy-turvey.

“The electricity went out and it was like a huge ‘boom’ and me and my husband were back in the kitchen and it threw us across the room,” she recalled.

Fortunately neither the couple nor their children were hurt, but the house wasn’t the same.  “We saw glass shatter everywhere and windows got knocked out and stuff.”

Those further out who were able to return to their homes today were already making repairs.

Damage in Grmela’s neighborhood seemed to run pretty much the same course: windows cracked or shattered; occasionally a ceiling falling in.

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“We’re just lucky that nobody got hurt,” said another resident, Joe Paul.  His family was cleaning up after its own collapsed ceiling Thursday.  Joe and his dog, Prissy, were sitting on a couch near their french doors Wednesday night when he heard the ‘thunder.’

“I didn’t pay much attention to it until it blew the door off and half of the ceiling came down,” he said.

Not just half the ceiling, as it happened, but also six windows blown out, garage doors twisted in unnatural ways and damage to the roof.

But Paul said it could easily have been much worse if a large storage area hadn’t shielded his home.  It took the brunt of the blast.

“If this building hadn’t been here,” he said pointing to the storage area, “it would’ve done more damage.”

The blast hit without any seeming design.  The First Baptist Church was damaged, along with its pastor’s home.  Pastor Joe Crowder couldn’t even go back into his own house.  He sat in the church in the t-shirt he wore to a track meet Wednesday .  He hadn’t slept all night.  The explosion happened while he was away.  No one in his family was hurt.  Now an evacuee himself, he is still confident West will come back.

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“I’m convinced that this community has what it takes to get through this thing to rebuild but we’re obviously going to have to redefine ourselves and be a different community than we were. Life is never going to be the same for any of us. But the people here are strong, and they’re strong enough to get through that.”  He concluded, “We’re going to be okay.”