I have to credit a much-overlooked story from the Dallas Morning News for pointing my nose back to West this week (which, in return, revealed an uncomfortable pattern of stack failures at an Eastside San Antonio chemical company).
Randy Lee Loftis reported Monday that the death toll from the West Fertilizer disaster is not complete. Residents of the West Rest Haven nursing home, evacuated with a single death the night of the massive April 17 ammonium nitrate explosion, have been dying ever since an alarming rate.
One patient, 96-year-old Adolph Lander, was pronounced dead after the evacuation, Smith said. Everyone else, it seemed, was safe. They were taken to hospitals and eventually dispersed among 12 nursing homes.
Just days later, though, it began: a steady stream of obituaries, the death notices lying next to one another on store counters, the worried whispers among people in town.
Experts say it isn’t unusual to see a spike in deaths among the elderly after a disaster. Research shows that a nursing home evacuation, even when necessary, can lead to increased mortality.
“If you’re asking me if I’m surprised that people died in the weeks following the evacuation, I’m not surprised at all,” said Dr. David Dosa, an associate professor of medicine at Brown University who studied nursing home evacuations in response to hurricanes, including Katrina.
Even once residents are relocated, a variety of stressors could trigger a turn for the worse.
“It doesn’t take much for these folks to get off the straight and narrow. Imagine walking along a ridge of Mount Everest. If you go a little to the left or a little to the right, you can have disastrous consequences,” Dosa said.
I don’t know any outlet that has matched Loftis’ coverage of this ordeal. You can see more of the DMN’s coverage here.
Top image is a still from Paul Lannuier‘s video of the West Fertilizer explosion.