The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has put an end to disaster relief funding for West, Texas. A massive explosion at a fertilizer supply depot in April, which killed 15 people, leveled part of the town of 2,800 residents. Costs for repairs to buildings including a demolished school, a nursing home and several residences are estimated at 57 million.
FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration had approved a $7 million assistance package including low cost loans, and is covering 75% of debris removal costs. FEMA also plans to reimburse the state and local responders for the initial response to the blast. But that is where FEMA's support will end.
The hang-up is with the words "major disaster" and so far, FEMA has refused to give the Texas explosion that designation. Officials say that FEMA funding is traditionally reserved for natural disasters. News sources also cite FEMA's refusal in 2010 to assist a California community rebuild after a gas pipeline exploded. The suggestion is that, despite President Obama's lip service to "stand with the community" while cameras roll, the administration shows its true colors in its lack of support for victims of chemical related disasters as though refusing to support cleanup after such tragedies would teach the chemical industry a valuable lesson.
"I’m very disappointed," West, TX Mayor Tommy Muska told the AP. "I guess we’re third page news now. I’d like to know what their definition of a 'major disaster' really is."
Gov. Perry's office issued the following statement after the 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.”
As West, Texas continues to rebuild, much needed federal assistance has been closed off despite the President's reassurances of support. But the administration's decision to cut funding smacks of punitive action against the chemical industry. Ultimately it has been left to the citizens to foot the reconstruction bill without the once promised support of Washington. Rather than punishing the chemical industry however, it is the people who will bear the brunt of the consequences of this horrible accident.