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Texas fire reminds some of KC’s ChemCentral blast

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The pictures and video from West, Tex., showing smoke billowing into the sky, the explosions and fire, it all brings back memories for some in Kansas City.

Just six years ago, a major chemical fire and explosion rocked the East Bottoms neighborhood. FOX 4's Tess Koppelman covered the story back then and remembers seeing the thick black smoke in the sky. She revisited some people who went through it, and they say they feel for the people of West, Tex.

The ChemCentral fire on Feb. 7, 2007 started with a chemical reaction -- an explosion that knocked employees off their feet and shook the ground miles away. Six schools and 500 people were evacuated in a one mile radius.

John Korzinowski, who goes by "Chief," lived next door to ChemCentral and sold the land for its building. After the fire, Chief spent the next two-and-a-half years living in a motel room. He's finally back home and the 89-year-old says he still can't forget that day.

"I was out in the yard, stuff was going bang boom bang," he said, "barrels were flying in the air."

His house was badly damaged, testing showed chemicals in his soil, in his walls and floors. His caregiver Katrina Oldenburg says the settlement with ChemCentral helped pay for some of the needed renovations but not everything could be replaced.

The Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department's HazMat team worked that explosion. Tom Seiter says HazMat is always working with industrial businesses in the Kansas City area to try and prevent disaster.

"The potential exists as long as the chemicals are in the right mixture or combination," he said, "the impetus is on the response agencies to make sure it doesn't happen and work with industry to make sure it's segregated properly and avoid it from happening in the future."

Seiter says Kansas City doesn't have a fertilizer plant the size of the one in Texas, but Kansas City has seen the dangers of ammonium nitrate before, in 1988 when a tractor trailer exploded killing six firefighters.

No one was killed in the 2007 ChemCentral fire but people impacted by it will tell you it took years to recover, and their hearts go out to the people of Texas.

"I wish 'em luck because it will be a lot of hell to go through to get your places back," Oldenburg said.

Chief says despite all the time it took to settle with ChemCentral, he is satisfied with the settlement because it meant he could be back in his home, where he's lived since 1949.

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