ELGIN –Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Doug Scott today welcomed more displaced individuals and families left homeless by Hurricane Katrina to Chicago and Rockford. The displaced victims, 30 in Chicago and 51 in Rockford, arrived on flights from Louisiana arranged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Upon their arrival, the Governor directed state agencies to immediately provide medical care, housing and any forms of assistance necessary for victims of one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. In the past week, Illinois also welcomed displaced victims to Chicago and the Metro East area.
“While the healing begins in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, the people of Illinois are stepping up to do whatever we can to welcome the victims of this tragedy with open arms. During their stay in Illinois, we will treat them as family as we help them reconnect with their own families and restore some semblance of normalcy to their lives,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
The Governor told FEMA that Illinois is prepared to receive up to 10,000 displaced victims. The Governor has called elected officials, community leaders, not-for-profit organizations, religious institutions and social service providers to match the State of Illinois’ coordinated relief effort to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina. To date, Illinois has taken in over 300 evacuees into the state.
Illinois set up a toll free telephone number to assist displaced persons who come to Illinois. The number, 1-800-843-6154, will stay in service for as long as needed. The toll free number has received several dozen calls from Gulf Coast area residents who were able to come to Illinois before or shortly after the onset of the tragedy.
By calling the number, displaced families and individuals 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 offer them information on food stamps, child care, housing, K-12 public school enrollment, unemployment benefits, as well as services and benefits for veterans, seniors and persons with disabilities.
Displaced victims across the country can call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to get registered for cash grants for hotel and rental assistance, home repair cash grants, home replacement cash grants, medical, dental, funeral costs, transportation costs and other disaster-related needs. TTY for hearing/speech impaired is 1-800-462-7585.
Private citizens who want to offer assistance to arriving victims, can also call a toll-free number specially set up by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and specify to operators how they can help. That number is 1-800-610-2095. Those wishing to make donations to the relief effort can also do so to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, by calling 1-800-HELP-NOW or 800-275-7575 (Spanish), or through a secure internet site at www.redcross.org
Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29th, 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 victims coming into Illinois. At the Governor’s direction, Illinois’ efforts to date include:
- Illinois has received over 300 displaced victims from the Gulf Coast states, in the Chicago and East St. Louis area. Individuals and families are receiving medical care and are living in housing provided by the State of Illinois and American Red Cross. Gov. Blagojevich announced on September 4th, Illinois is ready to receive as many as 10,000 displaced victims.
- The Illinois Department of Employment Security is helping displaced victims process unemployment claims and facilitate job searches and job training. IDES and CMS employees have set up the first remote computer stations in the state facilities in Tinley Park and Alton where the first displaced victims arrived and were housed this week.
- A group of 100 state employees will travel to Louisiana this weekend to help the Louisiana Department of Social Services reach out to victims in remote areas of the state. The majority of the volunteers will be clerical employees, with the remainder including security personnel, information technology specialists, drivers and mechanics.
- The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has reached out to state-chartered banks and thrifts and asked them to provide free check cashing, eliminate ATM service fees and help establish checking and saving accounts for displaced victims now residing in Illinois.
- The Illinois Department of Revenue will extend filing deadlines to taxpayers from counties damaged by Hurricane Katrina and who owe Illinois taxes, until October 31, 2005.
- Illinois set up a hotline to provide Hurricane Katrina victims with immediate assistance regarding social services offered by the State of Illinois, including health care, crisis counseling, food stamps, K-12 public school registration, and services for veterans, seniors and persons with disabilities. The number, 1-800-843-6154 is staffed by the Department of Human Services.
- Gov. Blagojevich deployed nearly 1,100 more Illinoisans to help Louisiana respond to the devastation resulting from Hurricane Katrina. The latest deployments include nearly 600 firefighters who left Monday and 500 National Guard troops that are preparing to depart for Louisiana on Wednesday. This latest deployment brings to 800 the number of Illinois National Guard troops sent to Louisiana.
- A total of 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.
- 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. The Governor also dispatched an 11-member Incident Management Team to George County, Mississippi to assist local emergency managers during the crisis.
- The Governor directed 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.
- The state’s public universities are providing accommodations for college students displaced by the hurricane. The state’s 39 community colleges will accommodate any Illinois 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) has made 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. IDOC has also delivered 3,000 bedrolls to the Red Cross in Hillside.
- The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs has sent toiletries and food to the Tinley Park facility and in collaboration with several other federal and private agencies will send food to the Gulf Coast states.
- 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 call loved ones.
- The Department of Human Services has sent 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 have dispatched twelve specialists to 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 have been deployed.
The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), with representatives of more than a dozen state agencies and IEMA personnel, continue to assess and respond to requests for help from the Gulf States. The 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.