FEMA denies additional funds to aid town of West after explosion

By Marilyn Tennissen | Nov 29, 2014

When the West Fertilizer Co. exploded in April, it leveled the facility and left a hole 93 feet deep, destroyed a school and a nursing home, damaged 150 buildings, killed 15 people and injured hundreds. But the federal government has failed to declare it a disaster.

According to a letter obtained by The Associated Press, FEMA said it reviewed the state's appeal to help but decided that the explosion "is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration."

FEMA has already provided about $16 million in aid to the Texas town for emergency response, debris removal and grants, but West Mayor Tommy Muska requested some of the infrastructure repair funds that are available to victims of natural disasters.

The city of West estimated that the cost to repair its roads, water and sewage lines could reach $17 million, in addition to the $100 million the school system projected it would need to rebuild the middle school that was leveled, according to media reports.

The letter, dated June 10, is addressed to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and signed by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

“Texas’ request for Stafford Act Major Disaster Declaration was denied because there was no evidence presented that the State of Texas lacked the fiscal resources to address the remaining $17 million in estimated uninsured public infrastructure restoration costs arising from the tragic explosion in West,” according to a statement from FEMA officials.

Perry noted in a statement that Obama attended a memorial service in April for the victims of the West blast and "stood in front of a grieving community and told them they would not be forgotten."

"He said his administration would stand with them, ready to help," Perry said. "We anticipate the president will hold true to his word and help us work with FEMA to ensure much-needed assistance reaches the community of West."

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also commented on his disappointment with the federal government's decision.

“President Obama has yet again promised one thing and then not delivered," Abbott said in a statement.  "Just last month I saw the devastation first-hand, met with rescue workers and heard the President himself say that 'America needs more towns like West, Texas.'

"But now, once the cameras have stopped rolling, President Obama's FEMA has denied our state and our neighbors the necessary opportunities to rebuild critical infrastructure in the town, including an entire school. While President Obama has turned his back on Texas and gone against his word, we will continue to take care of our neighbors and I pledge to continue working with leadership, first responders and the people of West to make sure their collective strength shines bright for the whole nation to see.”

However The Associated Press reports that it is not unusual for FEMA to turn down that level of assistance for emergencies not stemming from natural disasters. In 2010, officials rejected a request for millions of dollars after a gas-pipeline explosion ravaged a Northern California neighborhood.

First responders search what remains of an apartment complex near the West fertilizer plant that exploded in April.

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