West Plant Explosion
5:04 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

FEMA Denies Rebuilding Aid to West, Texas (Update)

Update: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is refusing to provide money to help rebuild the town of West after April’s deadly fertilizer plant explosion.

FEMA has approved more than $7 million in aid and loans to West residents impacted by the blast, but has denied assistance for things like crisis counseling, legal services, and unemployment assistance.  

FEMA also says the explosion does not warrant a major disaster declaration, which means the city and school district won’t receive federal money they requested to repair things like infrastructure, sewers and schools.

In a conference call today Senator John Cornyn said he will pursue why FEMA denied the funds.

“This was a disaster area and their failure to acknowledge it as such is inexcusable, "Cornyn said.

FEMA says it uses a formula to determine what qualifies as a major disaster. One factor is insurance money. West ISD Superintendent Mary Crawford says the school district’s insurance policy is $59 million.

“Whether we settle on that $59 million is still up for grabs. But we are making progress with our insurance. We’ll use those dollars and any other dollars FEMA sends down the line to ensure we have safe and adequate school facilities so our kids can learn and our community can rebuild," he said.

West ISD has to repair or rebuild three of its four schools. Its intermediate school was destroyed, and parts of the high school and middle school were damaged.

Another factor is whether the state has the ability to provide relief itself.

The city requested $17 million, while the school district requested $60 million. 

Senator Cronyn rejected that.

"That would be nice if the federal government's approach was that they wouldn't do things the state was capable of doing. They seem to take an opposite approach on everything else and take an attitude that Washington knows better," he said.

The city is expecting to receive about $10 million dollars from the state—which would be split between the city and school district.

“Five million could probably get us some pipes. It would not get us the water well we need, nor fix the sewer plant, nor fix the streets after we put the water in the ground, the pipes in the ground," West Mayor Tommy Muska said.

Muska says the city lost 65 percent of its sewer and water revenue from the homes destroyed in the explosion.

In a statement released Wednesday, Governor Perry expressed disappointment in FEMA's 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."

This is the second appeal for individual assistance programs. Governor Rick Perry has 30 days to re-submit a request to FEMA. 

Investigators have still not determined the cause of the blast, but have ruled out all but three options. Those are: an electrical system in the building, an intentionally set fire, and a defective golf cart battery, which could have sparked and set a fire.

The blast at the West Fertilizer Plant on April 18 claimed 15 lives and dozens of injuries.

Original Story (11:46 a.m.): The small town of West, Texas – rocked by a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant that claimed over a dozen lives – will not receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

The city had applied for $17 million dollars in relief for repairs to infrastructure, sewer and schools. West Mayor Tommy Muska says he’s disappointed.

“I don’t know what they consider a disaster but I consider it a disaster,” Muska says, “and I think the citizens of West deserve to know what criteria the government uses to determine a disaster.”

In the letter, FEMA says the impact from the explosion is quote, “not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration."

Related: What it Was Like in West, Texas the Day After the Explosion

Muska says the city is expecting to receive money from the state and there is a bill that would also provide funds awaiting Gov. Rick Perry’s signature. Perry has 30 days to resubmit an application to FEMA for relief.

Investigators have still not determined the cause of the blast, but have ruled out all but three options. Those are: an electrical system in the building, an intentionally set fire, and a defective golf cart battery, which could have sparked and set a fire.

The blast at the West Fertilizer Plant on April 18 claimed 15 lives and dozens of injuries.