In a serious, emphatic tone, Sen. Dick Durbin on Monday vowed to find out why federal officials denied Illinois lawmakers' request for federal relief aid for five downstate counties struck by tornadoes and severe storms.
"This is the worst tornado damage I've ever seen," Durbin told NBC Chicago. "We are going to get to the bottom of this."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent a letter over the weekend ruling the damage done Feb. 29 in the towns, including Harrisburg where seven people died, did not constitute a federal disaster.
In response, Gov. Pat Quinn said he is "extremely disappointed" and vowed to appeal FEMA's decision.
"After personally surveying the damage and talking to many residents who lost their homes, I firmly believe federal assistance is crucial to help them begin the recovery process," Quinn said in a statement.
Sens. Durbin and Mark Kirk called FEMA's decision unacceptable and called for a meeting between members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation and FEMA to discuss the state’s appeal.
"The damage from the storms in Southern Illinois is among the worst our state has seen in recent years," Durbin and Kirk said in a statement. "Federal funding is greatly needed to help residents and families rebuild and we will continue working to see that these communities are made whole again.”
In the meantime Quinn has asked Illinois' Emergency Management Agency director to continue working with the town's local officials "to ensure that we do everything possible to secure critical assistance.”
A disaster declaration would allow the areas to apply for federal reimbursements for storm-damage repairs.