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PHOENIX -- Before last week's fertilizer plant explosion that killed at least 15 people, Trudy Thompson Rice had never been to the small town of West, Texas.

The Arizona Red Cross worker quickly learned about the close connection among the nearly 2,800 residents.

"If they didn't lose a family member then they know someone who did. This is a Czechoslovakian community. People have been here for many years, many generations."

Thompson Rice said nearly all the victims were members of West's volunteer fire department, including the city manager.

More than 200 homes have been damaged or destroyed, along with a couple of schools, a nursing home and apartment complex.

She said that most residents have found temporary places to stay either with friends or family, but the Red Cross shelter is filling up with firefighters around the country.

They're arriving for private funerals that begin Tuesday and a public memorial scheduled for Thursday.

"This is going to be a long-term recovery for this little town and a very, very emotional week," said Thompson Rice. "But, you know what we are always seeing after every disaster and this one is no different, is that the human spirit is pretty amazing.

"People come together, they take care of one another, they grieve together, and they come up with a plan together."

Christina Estes, Reporter

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