Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared McLennan County a disaster area Thursday and is seeking an emergency federal declaration by President Barack Obama after an explosion at a fertilizer plant decimated part of the town of West Wednesday evening.
During a news conference Thursday morning in Austin, Perry said the federal emergency declaration would be forthcoming, allowing for a number of federal programs to become available to aid in recovery efforts.
"President Obama called from Air Force One as he was en route to Boston. We greatly appreciate his call and his gracious offer of support, of course, and very quick turnaround of the emergency declaration that will be forthcoming and his offer of prayers. We greatly appreciate the president for his call," Perry said.
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The explosion is "truly a nightmare scenario," Perry said, for the small Texas town while, at the same time, cautioning that most information available is still only preliminary and to provide estimates about the number of casualties would be premature.
"It's still early in this process ... I'm not comfortable giving you a number right now. Until the families are notified of any causalities, I think it's appropriate for us to allow this search and rescue operation to go forward without estimating because that's all it would be at this particular time," said Perry.
Perry outlined the state's response to Wednesday's explosion while saying that all of the state agencies involved will remain on the ground in West for as long as they are needed and requested.
"This tragedy has most likely hit every family, has touched practically everyone in that town," Perry said. "It's unfortunate for us that we face both natural and man-made disasters all to often in this state, but the bright side of that is we have the finest emergency management team in the country."
The state's recovery plans, to date, include:
- The Texas Department of Public Safety has been charged with securing the area impacted by the blast.
- Texas Task Force 1 and 2, along with the Texas National Guard, are assisting with active search and rescue operations.
- Texas Military Forces' 6th Civil Support Team has deployed 21 people to support first responders. Staff with the Texas National Guard Homeland Response Force are on call to assist if needed.
- The Texas Department of Transportation is managing traffic flow in West.
- The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is monitoring air quality.
- Gas distribution to homes has been disconnected and will be double and triple-checked before service is restored. The Texas Railroad Commission is monitoring pipelines in the area.
- The Texas Department of State Health Services is on the ground in West assisting where needed with ambulances, buses and a mobile hospital.
- The Texas Education Agency is working with the West Independent School District to coordinate and address the immediate needs of students impacted by the explosion. Schools in West are closed through Friday.
- The Texas Forest Service's Incident Management Team is assisting the Texas Division of Emergency Management with planning and logistics.
- The Texas Department of Insurance is working with the State Fire Marshal's Office and Division of Workers' Compensation to assist individuals affected by the explosion. Additionally, two members of the TDI's Consumer Protection Division will be on site to assit victims.
- The Texas Animal Health Commission is providing support personnel.
Chief Nim Kidd, assistant director for the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Chief of Emergency Management, said there are no unmet need requests from local government in West and that, due to the outpouring of support from surrounding communities, the state has already demobilized some state resources.
Early-morning rain may prove to have been a blessing in helping gain control of not only the fires that still smolder in West, but the threat of toxic air released by the fire at the plant.
"We've got real-time monitoring out there right now and they have had some rain, so we're getting zero, a non-detect on all the volatile, organic compounds and other issues. We've had a slight detection of particulate matter, but none of a health concern around the perimeter of the facility," said Zak Covar, with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Before ending the news conference, Perry asked the media to share that the American Red Cross is coordinating the gathering of information on missing people. Anyone with questions about missing family members or friends can call 211 for more information.