Texas town will receive federal aid after FEMA reverses disaster ruling

AUSTIN, Texas — The Federal Emergency Management Agency reversed its previous decision and approved more funding Friday to help rebuild the small Texas town where in April a fertilizer plant explosion leveled homes, damaged buildings, and killed 15 people.

President Obama issued a ‘‘major disaster declaration’’ for the community of West, just north of Waco, freeing up federal support to supplement state and local reconstruction efforts that are already underway.

Even before the decision, FEMA had provided West and its residents millions of dollars in aid, but in June denied Texas’ original application for major disaster funding, preventing the town from accessing widespread assistance money typically available to victims of tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.


In its original letter to the state, FEMA said the explosion was ‘‘not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.’’ That ruling affected both public assistance aid — which provides funding to the city to rebuild — and further individual aid, which provides crisis counseling and other services.

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Governor Rick Perry had vowed to appeal the decision and released a statement Friday calling the reversal ‘‘great and welcome news for the people of West.’’

‘‘It’s going to throw open the door to federal funding,’’ West Mayor Tommy Muska said, later adding, ‘‘I know that they didn’t make the right decision, but I’m glad they changed that decision.’’

A fire at the West Fertilizer Co. the evening of April 17 triggered an explosion that smashed homes, businesses, and municipal buildings and emitted waves of energy so fierce it registered as a small earthquake. Fifteen people, 10 of them first responders rushing to fight the initial blaze, were killed, and about 200 others injured.

The cause of the fire remains unclear, and a criminal investigation is still open. But investigators say the heat of the blaze destabilized tons of ammonium nitrate, a potentially explosive fertilizer, being stored at the plant. The incident highlighted how loosely regulated storage of potentially dangerous chemicals are statewide, and critics say the state government needs to tighten its oversight of such plants.


West Independent School District Superintendent Marty Crawford said the additional funding will be used to replace the destroyed school facilities.