The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the state's appeal for disaster assistance in the wake of a deadly tornado and severe storms in southern Illinois, leaving counties and homeowners to seek other ways to recover from the damage, Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday.
"I am very disappointed with this decision and do not believe it reflects the reality and devastation on the ground," Quinn said in a statement. "I remain committed to obtaining any and all assistance available to help our southern Illinois communities recover."
Seven people were killed when a tornado 200 yards wide and packing winds of 170 mph swept through the Saline County town of Harrisburg on Feb. 29. The state had sought disaster declarations for Saline and four other counties affected by the severe storms, but FEMA concluded homeowners' insurance, charities and state funds could cover the costs of recovery.
That decision was based on an assessment that 426 homes were damaged or destroyed. But Quinn and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin insisted FEMA's rejection was "out of touch with reality" and made before the storm damage was fully tallied. In its appeal the state said the storms actually leveled or seriously damaged 441 homes and destroyed 128 businesses in "the poorest part of Illinois."
Affected areas include Gallatin, Randolph, Saline, Union and Williamson counties.
Harrisburg Fire Chief Bill Summers said he was not surprised that FEMA denied the appeal, but said the town will come back with or without help from the federal agency.
"It will be harder, but we will survive," said Summer, adding that debris from the EF4 twister has been "pretty well cleaned up" and people were starting to rebuild.
"It took a lot of help and a lot of people but we are coming around," Summers said.
With a federal disaster declaration, people would be eligible for grants to help with home repairs, temporary housing, replacing personal and household items, crisis counseling and legal services.
Quinn said the state would submit a request to the U.S. Small Business Administration for low-interest loans to help people rebuild homes and replace personal items.
"I urge the SBA to review and approve this request quickly so that people can begin to apply for those loans," he said.
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford also said low-interest disaster loans are available for qualified residents and business owners to help cover some costs of recovering from the storms. Loans are available through banks that partner with his office, which lowers the interest rate by depositing money at a discounted rate into eligible financial institutions. Borrowers can get below-market rates for up to the first five years of a loan. The maximum interest rate is 3 percent.
Durbin, who had met with FEMA's administrator to press the state's case, said that when he saw the damage "there was no doubt that the residents and families would need the full spectrum of disaster aid available." ''The fact that the federal government has denied disaster aid - and done so with little explanation - defies logic," Durbin said in a statement Wednesday.
Quinn said his administration also will continue deploying state agencies looking to available options to help storm victims.
Attempts to reach Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg were unsuccessful Wednesday evening; voice mailboxes at City Hall and on his cellphone were full.