POLITICS

Feds approve some funding for WVa. following chemical spill, but refuse to call it a 'major disaster'

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Federal officials have approved a funding request by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin related to the January chemical spill in Charleston.

A stretch of the Elk River in Charleston, W.Va., is shown Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

But Federal Emergency Management Agency administration Craig Fugate refused to consider the event a "major disaster."

The request approved Thursday allows first responders, public agencies in nine counties and certain nonprofit groups to apply for grants in order to recoup costs incurred after the Jan. 9 spill. The decision came after the state appealed an earlier denial of the request.

Among the available assistance includes community disaster loans, crisis counseling, housing and unemployment assistance and hazard mitigation. The costs must have been incurred from Jan. 9 to Jan. 20.

The state's two U.S. senators and three House members had cited at least a $61 million economic impact from the spill. Restaurants lost profits while they were shuttered during the water-use ban.

The spill prompted a water-use ban for days for 300,000 residents in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties.

President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration Jan. 10 for the nine-county area, allowing FEMA to coordinate disaster-relief efforts. FEMA provided about 7 million liters of water and more than 130,000 meals in the spill's aftermath.

Fugate's denial of the request for a major disaster declaration was an attempt by the state to receive additional federal funding.

The chemical spill "was not a result of a natural catastrophe, nor was it caused by a fire, flood or explosion," Fugate wrote.

After a fierce June 2012 windstorm, FEMA originally denied individual help for residents in four West Virginia counties who sustained property losses. The agency changed its mind and approved Tomblin's appeal. It later expanded the assistance to 20 counties at Tomblin's request.

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