This story was published in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity and The World.
The blast sent Robby Payne into a plastic tank of liquid cattle feed, knocking him unconscious. Had he not been wearing 25 pounds of firefighting gear, which buffered the impact, he might well have perished. Payne, a college track star-turned-funeral director, remembers none of it. “My memory,” he said, “cuts out sometime before the explosion occurred.”
This he considers a blessing. He came away with a broken ankle, broken ribs, broken cheekbones, broken teeth, a concussion, and a slew of gashes. But no recollection of the event itself, which killed 15 people, 12 of them firefighters or other emergency responders. “As far as I was concerned,” said Payne, 58, “I was not there.”
The backstory: At 7:29 p.m. ... Read more