Texas governor: Washington taking care of Alabama, not Texas
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry on Thursday blasted the Obama administration for not responding to an April 16 request for a disaster declaration for the parched Lone Star State, where wildfires have scorched nearly 2 million acres this year.
"You have to ask, 'Why are you taking care of Alabama and other states?' I know our letter didn't get lost in the mail," Perry, a Republican and frequent critic of the federal government, told reporters after addressing the Texas Emergency Management Conference in San Antonio.
The White House said on Thursday that President Barack Obama will make a visit on Friday to Alabama, where storms -- including a tornado that ravaged Tuscaloosa on Wednesday -- have left about 200 dead this week.
Obama declared a state of emergency for Alabama and ordered federal aid.
"There is a point in time where you say, 'Hey, what's going on here?,'" Perry said.
Perry had requested a federal declaration of emergency for Texas as the wildfires began to rage across the entire state. The request has not been answered, although several federal agencies, including the National Park Service, are supplying firefighters to help the state's effort.
"They watch TV, they know what's going on here, they can recognize that there is going to be a request for assistance, a request for help," Perry said.
Two volunteer firefighters have died battling the Texas wildfires, which have destroyed more than 900 buildings or structures.
A federal major disaster declaration could reimburse Texas and local governments 75 percent of the cost of their response. Local departments and the Texas Forest Service have spent more than $60 million since September 1 responding to wildfires, forest service spokeswoman Linda Moon said.
In the past Perry has frequently charged that the Obama administration is punishing Texas. The Republican governor has been an outspoken opponent of the federal health reform law, and the state is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a proposal to end Texas' independent air quality permitting program for factories and refineries.
Obama took a shot at Perry in an interview last week with the Dallas/Fort Worth TV station WFAA.
"Governor Perry helped balance his budget with about $6 billion worth of federal help - which he happily took - and then started blaming the members of Congress who had offered that help," Obama told WFAA, referring to 2009 federal stimulus funds.
The Texas Forest Service reported on Thursday that dry and windy weather has whipped up several new wildfires, including a 56,000-acre fire west of San Antonio.
Forest service spokesman Marq Webb said that this now appears to be the worst year ever for brush fires in Texas.
"I haven't totaled it up yet, but if we're not there, we're right at it," he said.
Scores of helicopters and air tankers were battling the Deaton Cole Fire north of the border town of Del Rio, Webb said.
"We have had several days of drying out, so we are looking at a very dangerous fire day tomorrow," Webb said.
Many firefighters have been sent back to their home towns from the fire lines as the risk of fire danger has spread across the state, he said.
"They need to be able to defend their own municipalities," Webb said. "But they may be called back again if this wind event tomorrow is anywhere where we think it might be."
Over the Easter weekend, Perry urged Texans to pray for rain.
(Additional reporting by Elliott Blackburn; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)
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