SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced two new hotlines that will make it easier for the general public to help Hurricane Katrina victims, and that will help Gulf Coast evacuees arriving in Illinois find out what state services are available to them.
The Governor is appealing to Illinois residents to contribute to the Red Cross’ efforts to help victims in the hurricane-stricken areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, by calling the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, at 800-HELP-NOW, or visiting their secure internet site at www.redcross.org
“When a national disaster occurs, like the tragic events in the Gulf Coast, we must unite as a country and provide aid to those that desperately need our help. By calling the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund’s toll-free number, we all can become involved in a special and urgent campaign to help our fellow Americans in their time of need,” said the Governor.
Additionally, the Governor has set up a toll-free number that is part of the state’s centralized effort to assist refugees from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who come to Illinois. The number, 1-800-843-6154, went live yesterday, and will stay in service for as long as needed.
“People who come to Illinois from the Gulf Coast have been through a nightmare. They arrive here with just the clothes on their backs and they need critical services quickly,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “All our state agencies are coordinating to provide evacuees food, clothes, medical assistance, shelter and other services. By calling this toll-free number, victims of the hurricane and organizations serving them can get the answers they need as they try to cope with this tragedy.”
The toll free number will provide evacuees from areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina with another alternative to the Red Cross for obtaining timely information on urgently needed services. To date, Illinois has received between 400 and 500 evacuees, most of who are in the Chicagoland area, with smaller groups also in Springfield and the East St. Louis area.
By calling the number, displaced families will be able to find out how and where they can get food, clothing and medical care. Operators from the Department of Human Services will also be able to offer information on food stamps, emergency and temporary housing, and K-12 public school enrollment.
The toll-free line, which is part of a multi-agency effort to respond to the humanitarian crisis in the Gulf Coast, will also provide unemployment information, help displaced veterans find out what services are available to them in Illinois, and provide assistance to persons with disabilities and seniors.
Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall Monday, Gov. Blagojevich ordered all state agencies to respond in a coordinated manner to help both the recovery and cleanup efforts in the Gulf Coast, and the evacuees coming into Illinois. Illinois’ efforts to date include:
- This morning, 134 highly trained law enforcement officers from state and local agencies were deployed to Louisiana. These include Weapons of Mass Destruction teams, Tactical Response teams, Underwater Dive teams, a mobile command post, various all terrain vehicles, boats and trucks. The Illinois Department of Transportation contributed 500 yards of fencing and 500 stakes on two lowboys pulled by two semis that will be in the law enforcement convoy.
- This week, the Governor dispatched 52 members of the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Teams (IMERT) to Louisiana to assist with care of the massive number of sick and injured victims from Hurricane Katrina.
- On Friday, the Governor dispatched an 11-member Incident Management Team to George County, Mississippi for 14 days to assist local emergency managers during the crisis.
- On Wednesday, the Governor directed the Illinois National Guard to send more than 300 soldiers and fifty military vehicles to assist in Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts. The soldiers assembled in Springfield and left for Louisiana this morning.
- The Governor ordered the state’s public schools to waive residency requirements and enroll any child displaced by Hurricane Katrina who relocates to live with family, friends or in a shelter in Illinois. To date, the Illinois State Board of Education has received requests from some 30 students that will be placed in school districts in Belleville, Peoria, Wheaton, Metro East, South Cook (Lansing) and Whiteside County.
- The state’s public universities have also responded to the Governor’s call to provide accommodations for college students displaced by the hurricane. The state’s 39 community colleges will accommodate any Illinois residents resident displaced from higher education studies because of the hurricane, while Illinois’ 12 public universities will also take in students affected by the destruction along the Gulf Coast. Students are encouraged to contact admissions offices at each university to being an expedited process to enroll in the institution and to access university services like financial aid.
- The Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency are offering free camping and have removed length of stay requirements for Hurricane victims at all state parks and historic sites that offer camping.
- The Illinois Department of Transportation has waived certain transportation rules to allow standard-sized semis carrying supplies and materials to Louisiana to be overweight by up to 15,000 pounds when they travel on Illinois roads. Currently, a standard-sized semi is only allowed to weigh 80,000 pounds when traveling through Illinois. IDOT will also grant emergency permits to companies that need to move oversized equipment to the impacted area.
- The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) is making available various items through IEMA’s emergency procurement system including 256,000 half pints of water, 8,500 blankets, 18,300 clothing items, and 2,900 dozen packages of cleaning supplies.
- The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) is assisting its counterparts in Louisiana and Mississippi with taking Disaster Unemployment Assistance claims and regular claims. IDES is also providing IEMA with timely information on Illinoisans who have the job skills required for civil engineering, health and safety engineering and other areas of expertise that are greatly needed during this time of emergency. In coordination with the affected areas, IDES is also instructing its local offices to help evacuees receive Disaster Unemployment Assistance. IDES is already helping nearly 700 Illinois unemployment claimants living in the affected areas. IDES has set up a toll-free number (888-337-7234) to provide information on claims. Illinois claimants residing in Mississippi can also call the IDES Harvey office at 708-596-2325, while claimants residing in Louisiana and Alabama can call the Moline office at 309-764-8731.
- The Department of Central Management Services has made available its Bureau of Communication and Computer Services (BCCS) to help provide communications assistance to devastated areas. Using broadband services, including high speed data transmission to remote areas underserved by local carriers, BCCS can provide relief command centers with uplinks for phone and internet access, and also links to shelters so displaced individuals can called loved ones.
- The Department of Human Services is sending staff skilled in processing Food Stamps, to help the United States Department of Agriculture implement a Disaster Food Stamp program in 25 Louisiana counties.
- The Illinois Department of Agriculture has made available to the Illinois State Police the Expo Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds as a staging area to consolidate personnel, equipment and supplies in preparation for deployment. The building could be used for several days, providing a secure, easily accessible location for supplies and vehicles of all sizes.
- The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health are contributing twelve specialists that are leaving for Louisiana today. The specialists are members of four environmental health strike teams being sent by the state at the request of the Louisiana Emergency Management Agency. Their expertise includes drinking water, sewage, food safety and food salvage. In addition, two IEPA trucks stocked with emergency response equipment and two IPDH vehicles are being deployed.
- The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) continues to be fully activated with representatives of more than a dozen state agencies and IEMA personnel who are assessing assets their agencies could provide to assist disaster response and recovery efforts. SEOC is in continual contact with the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) officials in the affected states to coordinate requests for assistance with assets Illinois can offer.