SPRINGFIELD – As Hurricane Rita moved closer to the Gulf Coast, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today authorized the Illinois National Guard to send aviation assets and personnel to Texas to help with rescue and response. The Illinois Army National Guard will send three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and four air crews (approximately 15 people) to Texas in response to the Category 4 storm.
“As Hurricane Rita bears down on Texas and Louisiana, Illinois stands ready to help. Our National Guard helicopters and crews will be on the scene to help transport supplies and rescue victims as soon as the storm subsides enough to allow relief efforts to start. We’ve also let the Federal Emergency Management Agency know that Illinois is still ready to help provide housing and services to individuals and families displaced by this latest storm,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
“Texas has asked us to provide aviation assets and personnel to help give them the needed response capability to deal with the significant recovery effort anticipated due to Hurricane Rita. We looked at our available aircraft and air crews and determined that the Illinois Guard can provide this support to the people of Texas and maintain sufficient aviation capability here in Illinois to allow the Governor to respond to a potential state emergency,” said Maj. Gen. Randal Thomas, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard.
The UH-60 helicopters and air crew members are from 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation. The Illinois Army National Guard aviation unit is headquartered in Peoria with units in Chicago and Decatur. The UH-60 Black Hawk is a versatile utility transport helicopter able to provide general aviation support, aeromedical evacuation, command and control and special operations support. The helicopters and crews will arrive in Texas Sunday, September 25th.
Gov. Blagojevich also today updated the state’s efforts to help those displaced by Hurricane Katrina living in Illinois. It’s estimated more than 8,500 displaced victims remain in Illinois, with a large majority of them in the Cook County area according to numbers reported by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS). The state has helped more than 4,400 people from the Gulf Coast states with transitional housing, medical care, cash benefits, food stamps, Medicaid and unemployment and veterans benefits claims.
According to the latest reports provided by DHS, which is leading the state’s coordinated effort to make services available to Hurricane Katrina victims in Illinois, a total of 8,638 evacuees were in the state as of September 17. Of those, 4,455 contacted the State of Illinois for emergency and temporary services.
A total of 440 evacuees, including 415 flown to Illinois on flights arranged by FEMA, have been provided with state housing. Of those:
· 168 are currently residing in Alton
· 129 are currently residing in Tinley Park
· 59 are currently residing in Madden
· 53 are currently residing in Rockford
· 31 are currently residing in Elgin
The remaining 109 have left those facilities, including 49 who have left the state and have been provided with airplane, train or bus vouchers through DHS.
Over 1,000 evacuees contacted the state through the Victims Assistance Hotline (800-843-6154) from September 9 through September 15, while 2,571 more walked in to local DHS offices or were referred to the state by the American Red Cross. The hotline will remain in operation for as long as it is needed.
DHS has managed the largest caseload in terms of specific services to displaced victims. According to the agency’s latest numbers:
· 1,797 Temporary Assistance to Needy Families vouchers have been granted to low income families and individuals
· 3,240 Food Stamps cards
· 2,606 Medicaid referrals
· 5 Aid to the Blind and Disabled benefits
Other state agencies have provided the following assistance:
· The Illinois Department on Aging has provided information, assistance and nutrition services to 42 individuals.
· The Illinois Department of Employment Services has processed almost 700 unemployment claims.
· The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs has helped reroute 46 veterans’ benefits checks.
· The Illinois Department of Public Health has provided medical screenings to 404 victims, 30 of whom were hospitalized, as well as veterinarian services for 32 domestic pets.
According to DHS services numbers and self-reporting, most the evacuees living in Illinois are in the following counties:
· Cook County: 6,612 evacuees
· Will County: 911 evacuees
· St. Claire County: 760 evacuees
· Madison County: 357 evacuees
· Champaign County: 204 evacuees
· Marion County: 141 evacuees
· Jackson County: 135 evacuees
· Macon County: 132 evacuees
· Vermillion County: 124 evacuees.
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. Illinois’ efforts to date include:
- More than 400 children displaced by Hurricane Katrina are enrolled in 46 school districts across the state, as districts responded to the Governor’s call to waive residency requirements and open their doors to displaced students.
- Gov. Blagojevich deployed nearly 2,100 Illinoisans to help Louisiana respond to the devastation resulting from Hurricane Katrina. The deployments include nearly 600 firefighters and 800 National Guard troops.
- The Illinois Department of Employment Security is helping displaced victims process unemployment claims and facilitating job searches and job training. IDES and Central Management Services employees have set up remote computer stations in the state facilities in Tinley Park and Alton where the first displaced victims arrived, and are in the process of setting up the same services in Elgin and Rockford, where more evacuees arrived this week.
- A group of more than 100 state employees helped the Louisiana Department of Social Services process 25,000 evacuees for emergency food stamps, unemployment benefits, temporary housing and other assistance. All totaled, about 130 Illinois state employees representing more than a dozen agencies assisted Hurricane Katrina victims in the Gulf Coast region.
- The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has asked state-chartered banks and thrifts 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 extended filing deadlines to taxpayers from counties damaged by Hurricane Katrina and who owe Illinois taxes, until October 31, 2005.
- 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 a total of 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, and dispatched an 11-member Incident Management Team to George County, Mississippi to assist local emergency managers during the crisis. This week, a 10-member IMT team left Springfield to relieve the first IMT group. The newly deployed team includes two employees from IEMA and eight emergency management coordinators from around the state.
- The state’s 39 community colleges are accommodating Illinois residents displaced from higher education studies because of the hurricane, while Illinois’ 12 public universities are taking in students affected by the destruction along the Gulf Coast.
- The Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency have offered free camping and removed length of stay requirements for Hurricane victims at all state parks and historic sites that offer camping.
- The Illinois Department of Transportation 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) 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 sent toiletries and food to facilities where displaced victims have been housed, and in collaboration with several other federal and private agencies will send food to the Gulf Coast states.
- The Department of Central Management Services 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 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 Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health dispatched twelve specialists to Louisiana. 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 were deployed.