WEST (June 12, 2013)--The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it won’t provide money to help rebuild West where a deadly fertilizer plant explosion on April 17 killed 15, injured about 200 and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and buildings including three of the town’s four schools.
In a letter sent To Gov. Rick Perry, who requested a major disaster declaration for West, FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate said “this event is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.”
The denial comes more than six weeks after President Barack Obama assured mourners at a community memorial service in Waco that the town and its residents wouldn’t be forgotten.
“To the families and neighbors grappling with unbearable loss, we are here to say you are not alone, you are not forgotten. We’re neighbors too, we’re Americans too, and we stand with you and we do not forget and we’ll be there even after the cameras leave and the attention turns elsewhere,” he said.
Perry referred to the president’s vow Wednesday in a statement issued in response to the denial.
"The day of the West memorial service, President Obama stood in front of a grieving community and told them they would not be forgotten,” Perry said.
“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."
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, who represents West in Congress, said the president must be held to his word.
“During the memorial service for the fallen first responders, President Obama himself said ‘your country will remain ever ready to help you recover, and rebuild, and reclaim your community’. Following that service, Governor Perry, Senator Cruz and I met backstage with the president, and he again assured us that the federal government would help West rebuild,” he said.
“I believe that Governor Perry’s request met the thresholds to receive major disaster declaration and open up the benefits needed to aid in the recovery of West. I will continue to work with the governor, as well as with the rest of the Texas congressional delegation, as we move forward with the process to get the declaration needed to provide the support that the community is entitled to under the Stafford Act,” he said.
State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, whose district includes West, said in a statement Wednesday he was stunned by FEMA’s denial.
“Along with damaging or destroying the schools and local infrastructure on which the West community relies, this incident took the lives of 15 citizens and injured countless others—the very people President Obama promised his administration would stand behind,” Birdwell said.
“As I pledged to Mayor (Tommy) Muska this afternoon, I look forward to working with Governor Rick Perry, Congressman Bill Flores and U.S. Senators Cornyn and Cruz to ensure this egregious decision is appealed and ultimately reversed.”
State Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, whose district includes West, also expressed disappointment.
“With the damages to city infrastructure adding up to an estimated $17 million and more than $80 million worth of destruction to property and infrastructure operated by the school district, the needs by the town of West are real and unquestionably vital to the rebuilding of this tight-knit community,” he said in a statement.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a statement Wednesday evening in which he accused Mr. Obama of failing to deliver on his promise.
“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,” Abbott said.
“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,” he said.
West Mayor Tommy Muska says the town needs the money to cover millions of dollars in damage to buildings and infrastructure including schools and water and sewer systems.
The Insurance Council of Texas, an insurance industry trade group, estimates that insured losses from the fertilizer plant explosion will likely exceed $100 million.
Damage to the town's water pipes and sewer system could cost as much as $17 million to repair and the West ISD is faced with spending as much as $100 million to rebuild schools and provide temporary classrooms until construction is completed.
The school district's insurance is expected to cover about $60 million of the cost.
An emergency disaster declaration was issued on April 19 and was expanded on May 1 to allow residents affected by the explosion to seek Individual Assistance Grants to cover such things as temporary housing, home repairs, medical and dental expenses, funeral expenses, personal property and transportation.
Nearly 800 residents have registered for assistance with FEMA and to date FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration have provided more than $7 million in grants and low-interest loans to individuals and families.
A major disaster declaration would have allowed the city to seek federal funds to repair the damaged public infrastructure.
The agency has issued more than 20 major disaster declarations so far this year, all of them related to severe weather.
Perry’s spokesman Josh Havens told News 10 Wednesday morning this was actually the second denial FEMA has issued for help requested from West.
The denial this week concerns a request for assistance to the city for infrastructure and other repairs.
"FEMA requires that certain thresholds be met to approve assistance and we (West) met those thresholds," Havens said.
"We don't know why they denied it."
"Usually if you meet it (the threshold), you get it," Havens said.
Havens said the Governor's Office has 30 days to file an appeal, but he could not say if or when that might happen.
The first denial, which Havens said was "partial," came about three weeks ago and it was in response to an individual request, intended to help individual families.
"They denied part of that request and approved other parts," Havens said.
Havens said the governor's staff will use the next 30 days to work with the area FEMA office in Denton to determine if they it needs to file an appeal or use another avenue to seek funding.