SPRINGFIELD – In the aftermath of one of the nation’s most devastating hurricanes, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich authorized the Illinois National Guard to travel to Louisiana to assist in Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts. The Illinois National Guard will send up to fifty military vehicles and 300 soldiers to the devastated state, departing Friday morning. Tuesday, the Governor authorized the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team to travel to Louisiana to assist as well.
The state of Louisiana made the request to Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) officials through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). The compact, which includes 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, is a mutual aid agreement and partnership that facilitates states assisting other states during emergencies.
The Illinois National Guard will send large military cargo trucks to Louisiana that can drive through several feet of water to transport supplies and cleanup debris, among other tasks. Up to 210 members of the Illinois National Guard 3637th Maintenance Company in Springfield, along with drivers and a command and control element will travel to Louisiana to help keep recovery equipment in working order and provide other recovery support. The Illinois Emergency Medical Team consists of ten highly trained doctors and specialists with clinical experience and field experience who can quickly assist in medical disasters, including setting up on site field hospitals.
“We are all only beginning to understand the damage, destruction and pain Hurricane Katrina inflicted on the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In addition to sending our prayers to the families whose homes and communities have been shattered by this devastating storm, we are also sending our troops. Louisiana needs our help, and I’m happy to send the Illinois National Guard today and our emergency medical team yesterday to help them,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
"We are proud to be able to help the people of the Gulf States as they struggle to recover from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. We assessed our units and capabilities and are able to provide this support to the relief effort without impacting the Governor's ability to respond to other potential state emergencies," said Maj. Gen. Randal Thomas, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. "This coordinated response by the Illinois National Guard and other states to provide personnel and equipment in support of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort demonstrates the rapid response capability and flexibility of the National Guard in dealing with catastrophic natural events or other homeland defense emergencies."
Gov. Blagojevich has also directed the Illinois Department of Transportation to waive certain transportation rules, when practical, to allow for a smoother flow of goods and services to the impacted area. IDOT will allow standard sized semis carrying supplies and materials to Louisiana to be overweight when they travel on Illinois roads. Currently, a standard sized semi is only permitted to weigh 80,000 pounds, however, when hauling supplies such as water, food or equipment, for at least the next month, they will be able to have a maximum gross weight of 95,000 pounds. . In addition, petroleum tanker drivers will receive a waiver for the limit on the number of consecutive hours they can work. Currently, drivers may only drive for 11 consecutive hours before a mandated 10-hour rest. With the waiver, they will be able to work an unlimited amount during this emergency.
The Department will also grant emergency permits to companies that need to move oversized equipment to the impacted area. As utility companies begin to move large pieces of equipment to help in the recovery effort they will be able to obtain oversized load permits on an emergency basis. Likewise, as utilities send additional crews through Illinois to help out, IDOT will waive service hour requirements for commercial drivers.
On Monday, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf States with winds in excess of 140 miles per hour, inflicting catastrophic and widespread damage across the region. Katrina, downgraded Tuesday to a tropical storm, shattered buildings, smashed cars and boats, toppled trees and flooded entire communities. It’s estimated that nearly 75,000 people are being housed in shelters 240 shelters across the region. Nearly five million homes and businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are without electricity, according to utility companies serving region. Risk analysts estimate the storm may cost insurers $26 billion, making Katrina potentially the costliest U.S. natural disaster.
In addition to sending medical personnel, troops and equipment, Gov. Blagojevich encouraged Illinois citizens who want to help hurricane victims to donate to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Donations to the Disaster Relief Fund can be made by calling 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions may also be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or through a secure internet site at www.redcross.org