WEST (AP) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is refusing to provide money to help rebuild West, where a deadly fertilizer plant explosion leveled numerous homes and a school, and killed 15 people.
According to a letter obtained by The Associated Press, FEMA said it reviewed the state's appeal to help West but decided that the explosion "is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration." FEMA has, however, provided emergency funds to individual residents.
"I’m very disappointed," said Mayor Tommy Muska. "I guess we’re third page news now. I’d like to know what their definition of a 'major disaster' really is."
Muska said the rural community of 2,800 people needed the money to repair roads, the damaged sewer system and a school. He said the estimated cost of those repairs is $57 million, including $40 million to rebuild a school that was destroyed when the West Fertilizer Co. blew up in April.
"We don't have the money to go out and borrow the money. We don't have the means to pay that note back," Muska said. "There's got to be some public assistance."
FEMA already has provided millions of dollars in aid to the town of West and its residents, but the decision prevents them from getting some of the widespread assistance typically available to victims of tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The decision likely means less money to pay for public repairs to roads, sewer lines, pipes and a school that was destroyed.
FEMA did not immediately return a call seeking comment. FEMA's letter, dated June 10, is addressed to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and signed by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
Gov. Perry's office issued the below statement after the decision:
“The day of the West memorial service, President Obama 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. 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.”
Last week, FEMA reported the agency, along with the state and Small Business Administration, approved $6.5 million in grants and loans since the exposion.
The disaster-assistance money has gone to eligible individuals and families in McLennan County. FEMA also says the 764 applicants who've registered so far will be receiving follow-up phone calls to help identify any pending needs.
The West Fertilizer Co. blew up after the plant caught fire. The cause of the fire remains unclear — and a criminal investigation is still open — but investigators say the heat of the fire destabilized tons of a potentially explosive fertilizer stored at the plant, leading to the massive blast that leveled chunks of the town. The incident highlighted how loosely regulated some chemicals are, including the ammonium nitrate that blew up, and has some critics saying the government needs to tighten its oversight of such plants.
The blast emitted a wave of energy so strong it registered as a small earthquake, knocked down people blocks away, blew out windows, left a massive 93-foot crater and curved walls of homes and buildings.
Marty Crawford, superintendent of West schools, said officials had requested the FEMA aid to help pay for structural damage. An intermediate school near the plant was destroyed, as were parts of the high school and middle school. The district expects to get tens of millions of dollars in insurance money to help pay for the repairs, but needs the FEMA funds to get the job done, he said.
Crawford believes the state could continue to push FEMA to reverse its decision, though it appears the chance of getting federal assistance is low.
"Now we're not out of appeals, but in baseball terms, we're probably facing a two-strike count and fouling a bunch of pitches off," Crawford said in a phone interview. "As long as you've got another strike to fight with, we can hold onto hope."