Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Request for FEMA Funds Denied After West Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

The aftermath of the explosion in the small town of West, Texas. FEMA has denied the state's request for funds to rebuild a school and repair roads.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not provide relief funds requested by Texas to help rebuild the town of West, which was badly damaged (and in some parts, destroyed) by a fertilizer plant explosion in April. As the Associated Press first reported today, Texas’ request for FEMA money to help rebuild roads, a school and a damaged sewer system was denied by the federal agency. In a letter from FEMA to Texas Governor Rick Perry, the agency’s administrator writes that “the impact from this event is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.” You can read the letter in full below.

The explosion in April killed 15, injured hundreds, and destroyed several buildings and homes, including two schools.

FEMA has provided aid to individual residents and households, but a major disaster declaration and public  would provide money needed to rebuild parts of the city. The agency will also not provide unemployment assistance, crisis counseling, legal services and other aid.

“I consider it a disaster, and the I think the citizens of West deserve to know what criteria the government uses to declare a disaster,” West Mayor Tommy Muska says. “I’m very surprised and very disappointed.” Muska says the city is expected to receive $10 million from the state soon that would be split between the city and the school district, but more is needed.

In a statement, Governor Perry’s spokesperson Josh Havens says that “this explosion has impacted everyone in West in some way, and we are very disappointed that the Administration is denying the people of West this important assistance.” Perry’s office plans to continue to work to see “if there is any additional information that can be provided to FEMA that will get this community the assistance they need, qualify for, and deserve.”

Perry had originally requested a disaster declaration and public assistance in mid-May. FEMA wrote to Perry in a separate letter denying public assistance that “it has been determined that the remaining cost for permanent work is within the capabilities of the state and affected local governments,” according to a letter obtained by StateImpact Texas.

The cause of the fire that led to the explosion is still being investigated, as KUT News reported last month. Investigators believe it could have been started with a fire in the plant’s electrical system, a golf cart battery, or could have been intentionally set. Federal and state investigators have clashed over the investigation, now entering its third month.

Kate McGee of KUT News contributed reporting. 

Read the full letter from FEMA:


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