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

By Joe Sutton and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri June 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 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
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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.

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