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Articles by Joe Wertz, Center for Public Integrity

Joe Wertz is a senior environment and climate reporter at the Center for Public Integrity

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Only this memorial remains as a reminder of what happened at the site of the 2013 West Fertilizer Plant explosion.

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.”

Robert Payne was one of the volunteer firefighters who responded to the fertilizer plant fire. He was injured during the blast and unable to perform his duties as the director of Aderhold Funeral Home in the days following the fertilizer plant explosion. Callie Richmond for the Center for Public Integrity

The backstory: At 7:29 p.m. ... Read more

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