Skip to main content

To Texans' dismay, feds deny additional aid after fertilizer plant explosions

By Joe Sutton and Greg Botelho, CNN
June 14, 2013 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
  • FEMA does not declare West a "major disaster" area, which would've meant more funds
  • "Remaining costs (are) within ... state and ... local governments" capabilities, it says
  • Texas officials accuse president of betraying his promise that feds will help over long run
  • "The government at this time is not doing anything to help this city rebuild," mayor says

(CNN) -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied additional aid tied to deadly explosions at a Texas fertilizer plant, a decision ripped Wednesday by local and state officials who accused President Barack Obama of having "gone against his word."

FEMA's administrator informed Gov. Rick Perry in a letter Monday that it was denying a request to declare West, Texas -- the small town where an April 17 fire led to simultaneous blasts at a fertilizer distribution facility, killing 15 and decimating homes, businesses and more within 37 blocks -- a "major disaster" area. The letter noted Obama had previously issued an emergency declaration and other measures that paved the way for some direct federal assistance.

"Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the remaining costs for permanent work is within the capabilities of the state and affected local governments," FEMA's Craig Fugate said. "Accordingly, we have determined that a major disaster declaration is not necessary."

Perry responded with a statement alluding to Obama's remarks at a memorial event held days after the explosions that the people of West would not be forgotten.

Forensic mappers work the crater at the site of a fire and explosion in West, Texas, on April 24, 2013. The West Fertilizer Co. plant in the small Texas town exploded days earlier on April 17, killing 15 people. Forensic mappers work the crater at the site of a fire and explosion in West, Texas, on April 24, 2013. The West Fertilizer Co. plant in the small Texas town exploded days earlier on April 17, killing 15 people.
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Photos: Texas fertilizer plant explodes Photos: Texas fertilizer plant explodes

"We'll be there even after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere," Obama said then. "Your country will remain ever ready to help you recover and rebuild and reclaim your community."

The Texas governor added Wednesday, "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."

Perry's words were measured compared with those of state Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Abbott -- a Republican like Perry -- accused the Democratic president of having "yet again promised one thing and then not delivered."

"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," the attorney general said. "While President Obama has turned his back on Texas and gone against his word, we will continue to take care of our neighbors."

West's mayor, Tommy Muska, said Wednesday he is "disappointed" in FEMA and Obama, saying "we don't have money available ... and we can't repay ... loaned money back."

"The president said he was going to be behind us, and his words and actions are completely different," Muska said. "The government at this time is not doing anything to help this city rebuild."

A fire at the facility operated by West Fertilizer Company set off two explosions that registered on seismographs as a magnitude-2.1 earthquake and were felt 50 miles away.

The blasts leveled a portion of the town, damaging numerous homes, a nursing home and the town's high school and middle school.

According to local officials, the city is still well short of the $17 million it needs to repair roads, water and sewage lines and other damaged infrastructure. And the school system is estimated to be about $25 million to $30 million short of the roughly $100 million it says it needs for rebuilding and temporary housing.

Authorities haven't publicly determined what caused the fire, saying it could have started from a spark from a golf cart, an electrical short or could have been set intentionally. In May, authorities announced they had launched a criminal investigation into the case, though no one has been charged.

CNN's Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Industrial incidents
May 8, 2014 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
U.S. regulators issued a safety advisory urging freight railroads to avoid using older tank cars when hauling highly volatile crude oil when possible.
May 1, 2014 -- Updated 0203 GMT (1003 HKT)
A pillar of black smoke billowed over downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, after a train carrying crude oil jumped its tracks and caught fire.
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Stories continued to emerge as firefighters ferreted through the piles of bricks and wreckage on the East Harlem block where a powerful explosion and fire leveled two buildings.
March 17, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
Those two New York buildings were served by a very old gas main -- 127 years old to be exact. It's the latest incident in what experts warn is a dangerous trend plaguing the nation's oldest cities.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 2356 GMT (0756 HKT)
Some thought it was a bomb. Others thought it was the commuter train that runs behind their buildings jumping the tracks.
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 2348 GMT (0748 HKT)
Metro-North Railroad, the second largest commuter rail line in the country, has a "deficient safety culture" and overemphasizes on-time performance.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
A roof collapsed at a resort retreat for college freshmen in South Korea, killing 10 people and injuring more than 100.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 0445 GMT (1245 HKT)
An old auditorium collapsed at a village wedding in eastern China, killing at least nine people and injuring some 90 others.
January 5, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
At least 14 people were killed when a building under construction at India's seaside tourist resort of Goa caved in.
December 30, 2013 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Part of a picturesque toll highway that tourists use to travel between the Mexican towns of Ensenada and Tijuana collapsed.
December 8, 2013 -- Updated 1916 GMT (0316 HKT)
Given the New York train derailment, are we approaching a time when machines should be powering our methods of travel forward?
November 18, 2013 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
At least 27 people were killed when a cargo train slammed into two cars south of Cairo.
November 23, 2013 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Latvia's president has described the deadly collapse of a supermarket roof in Riga as "basically mass murder" of defenseless citizens.
November 20, 2013 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
South Africa's Department of Labour is visiting the site of aroof collapse near the eastern city of Durban, in which at least one person died and 30 people were injured.
September 30, 2013 -- Updated 0828 GMT (1628 HKT)
Authorities say they now know what may have caused a five-story building in Mumbai to collapse: a decorator who removed a central wall and supporting beams without permission.
July 30, 2013 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
The driver of a train that derailed in northwestern Spain, killing 79 people, was on the phone with railway staff when the train crashed.
December 1, 2014 -- Updated 0806 GMT (1606 HKT)
See images of industrial incidents spanning modern history
May 15, 2013 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
A city is in despair after many are killed in a garment factory collapse