As West, Texas Counts Its Dead, Some See a Chance to Make a Profit

The explosion Wednesday of a fertilizer plant in West leveled a large swath of the town and killed we're-still-not-quite-sure how many people. But as authorities continue to pick through the rubble, stories abound that help confirm one's faith in humanity. There are the volunteer firefighters who rushed toward the flames in the minutes before the blast, and those who came to the aid of the wounded in its aftermath. People flocked to donate blood and house refugees. The tight-knit community was pulled even closer together, as the smell of kolaches brought at least a hint of normalcy.

But disasters like this also bring out the darker side of human nature. There was an early, albeit isolated, report of looting. Westboro Baptist Church is promising for some reason to picket the funerals of explosion victims. Grand Prairie educators are fired over Facebook comments about white people, who will soon be "wiped from the earth."

Starting to come out of the woodwork now are the disaster profiteers, who inevitably descend on scenes of large-scale human tragedy. The charity scammers and shady contractors are on their way to West, if they're not there already. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott visited the town yesterday and warned of price gouging.

Of course, this is the digital age, which means that one doesn't have to physically be in West to make a quick buck. As of yesterday afternoon, The Domains, an Internet trade publication, reported that no fewer than 60 explosion-themed domain names had been registered.

It's impossible to say, of course, what the purchasers plan to do with their property. Perhaps they're simply squatting on, say, wacoplantvictim.com to make sure it doesn't fall into unscrupulous hands. And maybe wacorelieffund.com is really going to be a legitimate relief fund. But don't count on it.

And then there are the lawyers, who seem oblivious to the thought that now might not be the appropriate time to start trolling for potential clients. First out of the gate seems to be Dallas-based Baron & Budd, which promptly dedicated a webpage dedicated to drumming up business from victims of the West explosion.

"This horrible tragedy hits home for us," Russell Budd, the firm's founder and managing partner, is quoted as saying. "We are concerned about all the devastation this explosion has left in its wake, and we stand ready to help the people of West as they work to rebuild their lives."

So it begins.

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