Obama reverses FEMA, OKs disaster relief for West, Texas

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama overruled the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday and signed a declaration that there’s a “major disaster” in West, Texas, due to the fertilizer plant explosion in April that killed 15 people and destroyed much of the town.

The decision came a day after Obama signed an executive order implementing a wide range of programs to improve coordination among federal agencies for safety and security at chemical facilities.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry had appealed FEMA’s June denial of additional funding and requested more than $35 million in assistance. A bipartisan majority of the Texas congressional delegation also pushed for the “major disaster” designation.

“The approval of the state’s appeal for a major disaster declaration is great and welcome news for the people of West,” Perry said in a statement. “This . will help this community rebuild their infrastructure, school district and public works as quickly as possible.”

FEMA press secretary Dan Watson said that “additional federal disaster aid has been made available to the state to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by the explosion.”

The delay in getting the disaster designation had taken on a political tinge in red-state Texas. In acknowledging the additional funding, Republican state Attorney General Greg Abbott took a dig at the Obama administration.

“The people of West, Texas, haven’t allowed the uncertainty of federal disaster assistance to deter them from doing what Texans always do – they overcome obstacles and adversity, no matter the circumstance,” Abbott said in a statement. He’s running for governor next year to succeed fellow Republican Perry, who’s retiring.

Rep. Bill Flores, a Republican who represents West, thanked the Democratic president for reversing FEMA’s earlier decision.

“The city of West has been through so much since the tragic explosion in April, which took 15 lives, injured hundreds and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage,” he said in a statement. “While I often disagree with President Obama on many issues, I applaud this decision to support this Central Texas community’s efforts to rebuild and to recover.”

FEMA’s Kevin L. Hannes was put in charge of the disaster relief for the aftermath of the blast in West.

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&Copy;2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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