Recovering West residents hopeful for bright Christmas and brighter future



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Posted on December 13, 2013 at 12:16 AM

WEST, Texas -- They put up extra Christmas lights in West this year.

And some people say it's going to be a better Christmas than they ever dreamed, considering the 15 deaths and so much damage from the massive fertilizer explosion in April.

"My family is coming over for Christmas Eve,” Vicki Vochoska said. “I’m getting my house in order.”

Her new house -- rebuilt from the ground up. She was hauling boxes into the garage Thursday night. Charity groups and churches provided appliances and other essentials.

But Vochoska said financial help from the long term recovery center has been frustratingly slow.

"It's been terrible, but I know they've been overwhelmed," she shrugged.

She hopes a new executive director for the West, TX Foundation, will know how to speed up the process.

Current director Karen Bernsen announced she's resigning by the end of January to focus on her four children and real estate business.

She's been coordinating an avalanche of donated money, time, and material that poured in starting immediately after the blast.

"She's done a fine job. It's an impossible job," said First Baptist Church Pastor John Crowder. “She’s working 60, 70 hours a week.”

Pastor Crowder is on the board which oversees the roughly $3.7 million fund for long term recovery. He said about $500,000 has been approved for victims within the last month.

He said dispersal is getting faster, but is still too slow because the fund is tangled in IRS regulations.

“If you can show documentation that a contractor is building your home and he’s asking for this much money, we can write that check," he said. "We just need documentation."   

“When all that money goes into a 501(c)(3), it's all subject to IRS rules and regulations," said West Mayor Tommy Muska. “Unfortunately, there are some people -- it’s dragging on for them. All I can tell them is to be patient. And they don’t want to hear that. I don’t blame them. I don’t want to hear that either."

He said it might have been a mistake to create a 501(c)(3), but adds there was no play book to go by.

But that’s the past. The future, he said, is getting brighter sooner than he expected.

Thursday night, Mayor Muska was putting up Christmas lights around the West welcome sign.