What is in this article?:
- A year later a rural Texas town is still rebuilding
- Life is different
- Successes and Failures
- Economic woes
- State action needed
It has been almost eleven months since a deadly ammonium nitrate explosion and fire at a fertilizer plant changed life forever for the 2,800-plus residents of West, Texas.
Successes and Failures
Soon other types of aid arrived—containers of food and bottled water, clothes that had been donated and special funds were established to help disaster victims. A special non-profit organization was established to coordinate donations and to distribute to local residents in need. Just days later President Obama and Governor Rick Perry came to West to honor the emergency workers who had lost their lives in the terrible disaster.
Texas may be a large state, but even distant neighbors often respond when need arises. That was the case for the Texas Rangers baseball club that became involved in fund raising activities. In all, the Rangers were directly responsible for donating $50,000 to the community, but also made special appearances in the city and collected an additional $40,000 plus in gift cards and other essential supplies and materials. They were also instrumental in getting Major League Baseball (MLB) to donate an additional $100,000 for relief efforts. The act was contagious, and soon others joined in.
The special foundation that was set up had managed to collect some $3.6 million to help local residents who, in many cases, lost every thing they owned. The process of doling out the relief funds has been tedious and requires a great deal of paperwork, but progress continues. More and more local residents adversely affected by the disaster are getting relief as these funds continue to be distributed nearly a year after the disaster struck.
But bad news came with the good. Not long after the tragedy, FEMA denied a request for additional money to the town. While the Texas Legislature granted $2 million in support from the state's Rainy Day Fund, without FEMA funds, hope for recovery had been diminished.
In a letter to Gov. Rick Perry explaining the decision, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said the damage from the massive explosion was “not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration,” and further clarified that FEMA's mission was to help communities when local and state resources were unavailable to handle the magnitude of the problem.
Fortunately, FEMA had already authorized over $2.5 million in "Category B" federal emergency funding, and FEMA also helped pay for 75 percent of debris removal costs. A presidential disaster declaration would have made additional funding available to help the city rebuild its damaged or destroyed infrastructure.
Finally, the Administration reversed its decision after the State of Texas appealed, and FEMA is now ushering in additional funds, including $20 million to rebuild several of the community's public schools. Since last April, students have been meeting in temporary classrooms shipped in until schools can be rebuilt, or some were bussed to adjacent counties to their education.
The West Independent School District was covered by insurance, but Superintendent Marty Crawford estimated two of the four campuses suffered as much as $53 million in damage. While the district's insurance company has paid out more than $30 million so far, there simply was not enough money to rebuild all of the facilities without federal help.