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Newly released video shows moment of deadly West, Texas, blast

By Ed Payne and Chandler Friedman, CNN
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fifteen people perished in the April 17, 2013, blast
  • The explosion destroyed 120 homes and damaged 200 more
  • Jeff Tobola caught the blast on his cell phone, but only released it this week

(CNN) -- Jeff Tobola had just wrapped up another work day and picked up his son in West, Texas, when he heard the city's fertilizer plant was on fire.

Why not check it out?

"I noticed I could see the flames," Tobola said. "I went like, yeah, that's a good sized fire, and so it just drew me a little bit closer."

Almost too close.

Forensic mappers work the crater at the site of a fire and explosion in West, Texas, on April 24, 2013. The West Fertilizer Co. plant in the small Texas town exploded days earlier on April 17, killing 15 people. Forensic mappers work the crater at the site of a fire and explosion in West, Texas, on April 24, 2013. The West Fertilizer Co. plant in the small Texas town exploded days earlier on April 17, killing 15 people.
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
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Photos: Texas fertilizer plant explodes Photos: Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Eleanor Castro sits in her home in West, Texas. Her property was damaged by the fertilizer plant explosion a year ago that claimed 15 lives. Eleanor Castro sits in her home in West, Texas. Her property was damaged by the fertilizer plant explosion a year ago that claimed 15 lives.
Rebuilding in West, Texas
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Photos: Rebuilding in West, Texas Photos: Rebuilding in West, Texas
2013: Watch fertilizer plant explode

Tobola pulled out his cell phone to capture it on video, he hit record -- and then all hell broke loose.

The plant exploded sending a deadly shock wave through the tight-knit community of 2,800 people, many of them of Czech heritage.

"What I was thinking ... as it exploded ... is, 'am I going to be able to hear when this stops? Is this gonna burn me?' Because, I was like 200 yards away from it."

When it was all over 15 people were dead, 120 homes destroyed and 200 more damaged.

In the fraction of a second before the explosion, the video shows a brilliant flash of light, followed by a massive shock wave -- a dome of energy rippling from the blast.

"It definitely was the biggest explosion I've ever seen," said Tobola. "It seems like it lasted forever."

Tobola only released the video this week on the eve of the first anniversary of the April 17, 2013, blast.

"It just wasn't the time or place," he said. "I had a lot of friends that passed in the fire."

Texas town tighter than ever 1 year after fatal blast

Part of complete coverage on
Texas fertilizer plant explosion
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
West, Texas, isn't just a town. It's a family.
At least 14 people, including nine first responders. The names of those that lost their lives are in our memorial interactive.
updated 10:14 AM EST, Thu December 5, 2013
A paramedic who responded to the deadly fertilizer plant explosion was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for conspiring to make a pipe bomb.
updated 5:41 AM EDT, Fri April 26, 2013
They were wives and brothers and fathers and grandmothers, and they were hurting.
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Sat April 27, 2013
To really know West, you have to venture about half a mile east. There, past the Ole Czech Smoke House selling sausages and the flags flying at half-staff, the people tell the story.
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Fri April 26, 2013
Two days after a deadly explosion ripped through the small Texas town, Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton found himself carefully picking through the debris of damaged homes looking for lost pets.
updated 12:28 PM EDT, Fri April 26, 2013
Learn what you can do to help the people injured and affected by the explosion in Texas.
updated 11:07 PM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
As the sun rose, the small town's devastation came into fuller view: a gruesome, bloody scene, homes flattened to rubble, and scores of firefighters battling a raging blaze.
The explosion damaged buildings for blocks in every direction. Between 50 and 60 homes in a five-block area sustained damage, officials said.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
The blast was so catastrophic, it destroyed Marty Marak's home, killed his dog and leveled houses for blocks around.
updated 9:08 AM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
Firefighters at the scene of a massive fertilizer plant explosion in Texas were concerned Wednesday night about anhydrous ammonia.
updated 9:45 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Click through photos documenting the explosion and its aftermath in West, Texas.
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
Dr. George Smith describes what he went through when a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas. KCEN reports
updated 5:24 AM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
Watch video of the moment a burning West, Texas, fertilizer plant erupts in a massive explosion.
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