West, Texas struggles to rebuild, repopulate after disaster
In the wake of the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, the town’s residents are sifting through the rubble, questioning whether to rebuild or start over elsewhere.
“It’s a beautiful little community, a lot like Mayberry RFD,” West Mayor Tommy Muska told the Dallas Morning News. “But look at what [Hurricane] Sandy did. That was seven months ago. If I have to wait seven months [for federal assistance], these people are going to find another place to live.”
Many displaced residents say they plan on returning, according to an Associated Press report, but rehabitation might be difficult, as certain necessities remain unavailable. There is still no running water in the area closest to the explosion’s epicenter. And while students will be taught in modular units on the grounds of what was, before the blast, the middle school parking lot, it remains unclear where citizens, especially those who resided at the now-collapsed assisted-living center, will live.
Additional problems plague West’s repopulation efforts. The Dallas Morning News reports that West is both poorer and older than the average Texas town. The percentage of working-age individuals in West’s population is almost 9 percent below the state average, and there are few sustainable jobs within the city limits. Muska acknowledged, “There are not a lot of high paying jobs in West,” adding, “The kids move to where the jobs are. When you’re coming out of A&M with an engineering degree, you’re going to move to Houston and work for an oil company.”
Damage to the water and sewer lines in West is estimated at $3 million, according to the AP. Currently, crews are demolishing damaged homes and clearing the way for repairs. But once the infrastructure is rebuilt, money will still be a challenge for West’s cash-strapped residents. Demolitions cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, leaving many citizens with nothing left to rebuild.
“There are some here that plan on staying,” Judy Kudelke, a florist in West told the Dallas Morning News. “But for some of the older folks who lost their homes, I don’t know. They don’t want a mortgage at that age.”
Muska remains confident that people will choose to stay in West if they see signs the town is coming around, but the federal aid West’s reconstruction depends on has been slow.
“We’ve reached [out for] $31,600,000 for damages, but FEMA is still going through the red tape in Washington, and they don’t seem as fast to do it as I’d want,” Muska told the Dallas Morning News. “The schools are looking at the feds, too. But they’re just a little bit slow up there.”
Muska will continue to fight, however. “We want people in West- that’s my charge,” he told the AP. “My job is to keep them here and to convince them, one way or the other, to plan on building.”