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Prague to send aid to Texan blast town of Czech heritage

Prague said Wednesday it will send thousands of dollars in funds to West, the small Texan town levelled last week by a factory explosion and whose residents are largely of Czech origin.

"The government has approved assistance of four million koruna (150,000 euros, $200,000), on the suggestion of Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg," ministry spokesman Karel Srol told AFP.

"This sum will notably be used to rebuild a gymnasium belonging to the local branch of the Sokol (sport) movement" founded in the Czech Republic.

Last week's massive explosion at a fertiliser plant in the town of 2,800 residents killed at least 14 people, injured around 200 others and destroyed dozens of homes.

Around three quarters of the town's residents have Czech roots, making it one of the state's main immigration hubs from the Central European country.

The Czech ambassador to the US, Petr Gandalovic, travelled to West the day after the blast to ask residents how the country could help.

Many of the town's residents have Czech last names such as Brezina, Kucera or Kolar, according to the Czech news agency CTK.

The local hotel is called "Czech Inn", while the "Zatopek Oil" gas station is named after the late Czech runner and Olympic gold medallist Emil Zatopek.

Another town fixture is the Sokol movement, which was founded in Prague in 1862 and links cultural and athletic activities with patriotism.

Banned by the Nazis and the later Communist regime, the Sokol tradition has been upheld by Czech immigrant communities around the world.

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