FEMA doubles back on major disaster declaration for City of West

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by MATT GOODMAN

WFAA

Posted on August 2, 2013 at 11:11 AM

Updated Friday, Aug 2 at 7:03 PM

Gov. Rick Perry says FEMA has issued a major disaster declaration for the city of West, reversing its earlier decision not to grant the farming community federal aid following the fertilizer blast that killed 15. 

In a statement, Perry called the reversal “great and welcome news for the people of West.”

I appreciate everyone who joined me in standing with the people whose lives have been forever impacted to move this appeal forward, especially our congressional delegation,” he said in a prepared statement. 

The April 17 fertilizer plant blast there killed 15 people and injured more than 300. The explosion at the West Fertilizer Company left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The Insurance Council of Texas has estimated losses at more than $100 million, including $17 million worth of repairs on the city’s underground infrastructure. 

FEMA had already vowed to give $2.8 million to help rebuild the schools damaged or destroyed in the explosion –– the state had asked the federal government for $40 million in disaster aid for the wrecked campuses, which was denied. 

On June 12, FEMA shot down the state's request for federal dollars, saying, in a letter obtained by the Associated Press, that the explosion was “not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.” The federal government did, however, accept requests from 775 individual residents. 

On July 9, Gov. Rick Perry formally appealed the decision

“The scope of damage caused by April’s explosion has devastated this small community, and further inaction by the Obama Administration to deny additional federal aid is simply unacceptable,” Gov. Perry said in a prepared statement then. “On behalf of the people of West and McLennan County, I am appealing the president’s decision in order to get this community assistance they qualify for, deserve and need to get back on their feet and on the road to recovery.”

At the time of the initial rejection, West Mayor Tommy Muska said $57 million would've been available from the federal government. A release from the White House announces the edict but does not say how much will be designated.  

"We're very pleased that the funds were approved," said Karen Burnsen, executive director of West Longterm Recovery. "t takes a lot of the pressure off the mayor and the City Council to try to find the funds that will be necessary to replace the infrastructure that was damaged due to the disaster."

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