CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — It happened in a moment: The colored powder sprayed over a crowd partying at a Taiwan water park ignited and engulfed hundreds — including a New Hampshire man who moved there to teach English — in flames.
Now, five months after he suffered burns over 90 percent of his body and prospects for his survival were grim, Alex Haas has made remarkable strides in his recovery: He can shower by himself, cook and even take care of the family dog.
"I'm just happy I can be pretty independent," the 27-year-old told The Associated Press in a phone interview from his home in Mont Vernon.
Just a month ago, Haas had difficulty walking, sitting and standing. But that was a vast improvement from June, when his family rushed to his bedside after the horrific explosion that left at least 12 dead and more than 500 injured.
Haas said he was standing in an empty swimming pool near the stage when the powder was released, caught fire and exploded, burning the crowd. He recalled stepping into the dust as it kept bursting into flames, badly burning his limbs and torso.
Doctors, who did not think Haas had long to live, asked his family if they wanted a lock of his hair. But his condition improved rapidly.
Haas was able to fly home in September. Instead of a full-body bandage, he now only wears wraps to reduce swelling in his feet and calves. He can wear slippers he was given by a neighbor. He does stretching and strengthening exercises, using an old home gym machine that his mother once thought of throwing away.
The next step: a series of laser surgeries to help repair his scarred skin. The first one is scheduled for Dec. 17 at Massachusetts General Hospital. Haas called the process "a whole system of cascading goodness ... I'll be getting even better."
Haas said he's not in pain from the scars. "The pain I'm in now is nerve pain. The nerves have grown back, and since the scars are thickening, that tissue can be kind of tense and sometimes cause pain," he said.
Haas thanks the support of his family, friends and strangers for helping his recovery.
Many donated to a GoFundMe site to help with his recovery. He and his family have decided to take down the site, which raised over $100,000. "We are so fortunate that things didn't follow the original diagnosis, and we have to thank the emergency room staff for tending to his immediate needs," his family said on the site.
Haas said the support is touching.
"It's a really rewarding gift to know that there are so many people in the world who can come together at a moment's notice just for one person whom they might not even know, just to help them get better," Haas said.
He said he recently took another look at some of the early pictures of his burns and called the imagery "quite gruesome."
"It's insane to think that I was in that situation," he said. "They're very powerful images to look at for me."