U.S. grants $20 million to rebuild schools destroyed in Texas blast

DALLAS Mon Feb 10, 2014 6:13pm EST

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DALLAS (Reuters) - The federal government has awarded $20 million in grants to rebuild two schools that were destroyed last year in the central Texas town of West by a deadly fertilizer plant explosion, officials said on Monday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said the money will be used by the West Independent School District, which has struggled for resources to rebuild from the April 17 blast that obliterated large parts of the town.

Superintendent Marty Crawford estimated two of the four campuses suffered as much as $53 million in damage from the explosion. The district's insurance company has paid out over $30 million so far.

The intermediate school and high school were within about 800 yards (meters) of the blast site and could not be salvaged. The middle school sustained minor structural damage and the elementary school was untouched by the explosion.

Students were bused to neighboring counties to finish out the school year and are now housed in portable buildings on the district's property.

"With FEMA's announcement, we're confident the cost will be covered," Crawford said.

Construction will begin in July and students could fill the hallways in late 2015 or early 2016, Crawford said.

The explosion at the plant killed 14 people. Local officials said costs have surpassed $100 million for city and school repairs.

In June, FEMA turned down the state's initial $40 million request for aid on the grounds that state resources were adequate to help the community of 2,800 rebuild.

Texas Governor Rick Perry appealed the decision and FEMA declared the city a major disaster site in August.

(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Cynthia Osterman)

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