Red Cross Opens Joint Assistance Center In West

By: Paul J. Gately Email
By: Paul J. Gately Email

WEST (April 20, 2013)--The American Red Cross was opening a joint assistance center Saturday in West to aid displaced families who are trying to get back to their homes.

Director of the HOT Red Cross Mark Felton said Saturday morning that those who want to return to their homes after the evacuation order is lifted must first stop by the center to gain access to the cordoned-off area.

Residents will be able to secure identifying information they'll need to return to their homes once the security perimeter is lifted.

The center is at the Knight's of Columbus Hall, at 2547 Jerry Mashek Drive and remains open Saturday until 7 p.m.

The center also will be open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, Felton said.

The center is intended to be a one-stop-shop for residents to gain access to government and private agencies that are providing assistance to residence of West, Felton said.

Representatives of such agencies as the American Red Cross, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, UMCORP, and Austin Disaster Relief Network will be at the center.

Felton stressed that anyone wanting access to their homes must visit the center first to pick up documentation that is necessary to get to their homes.

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The city was expected to announce the first stage of the reentry process Saturday, but the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives planned to continue searching the rubble over the weekend, which could mean an indefinite delay in the return home of displaced residents.

Franceska Perot, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said late Friday that investigators were still combing through debris and would continue Saturday.

Until they're finished, she said residents cannot return to their homes and she had no timetable for completion of the agents' work.

Perot later says it's a "possibility" that some families will be allowed into their damaged neighborhoods as early as Saturday.

Texas Task Forces 1 and 2 have completed their search through the rubble left by the blast and the last of the urban search and rescue experts were pulling out Saturday.

Operations Chief Jeff Saunders said the group, which is more accustomed to dealing with the aftermath of tornadoes and hurricanes than with industrial explosions, was preparing equipment to return to College Station.

Saunders says the team completed Friday a search of the plant site and a final sweep of a devastated nearby apartment complex.

He declined to say what they saw, citing an ongoing investigation.

Texas Task Force 2 left Friday evening.

A massive explosion Wednesday night at West Fertilizer Co. damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and other buildings including a two-story apartment complex.

Three of West’s four schools were heavily damaged.

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