SPRINGFIELD – Answering a request from Louisiana for additional National Guard forces to assist in the ongoing hurricane relief effort, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich authorized another 350 National Guard soldiers to travel to Louisiana. The soldiers will help provide security in the greater New Orleans area.
“Every American is well-aware that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have combined to produce a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions and that the national effort to help the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Region recover and rebuild will be long and difficult,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “If sending additional Guard forces to help provide security to that devastated area is what Louisiana needs, I am proud we can answer the call.”
The soldiers are from Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 202nd Air Defense Artillery of Kewanee and units of 2nd Battalion, 122nd Field Artillery of Chicago. The primary responsibilities of the Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers of Task Force 2-122, as they will be known, will be to assist law enforcement authorities in maintaining security and public order in New Orleans and surrounding communities.
“I know our Soldiers are proud to be a part of this national relief effort to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina,” said Maj. Gen. Randal Thomas, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. “They have a great call to service and this is the type of work they joined the Guard to do. I’m glad that we are able to provide this support to fellow Americans in need, while keeping up our commitment to protect and defend the people of Illinois.”
More than 35,000 members of the National Guard from across the nation are currently conducting operations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas in support of hurricane recovery efforts. Approximately 500 are soldiers from the Illinois Army National Guard who were sent to Louisiana by Gov. Blagojevich in the days immediately following Katrina making landfall. The primary missions continue to be saving lives, enforcing security, evacuating residents and supporting existing critical infrastructure. With the exception of a small stay-behind force, these soldiers are scheduled to return to Illinois in the first week of October.
The 350 Soldiers of Task Force 2-122 are being sent to Louisiana for approximately 30 days. They are expected to leave for New Orleans in the next few days, after completing Soldier Readiness Processing at the Marseilles Training Area complex. Soldier Readiness Processing includes such things as record checks, immunizations, equipment issue, physicals, dental screenings, family support activities and all other pre-mobilization administrative tasks needed to prepare them for deployment.
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:
- Arriving on four flights arranged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Illinois has received more than 430 displaced victims from the Gulf Coast states. Individuals and families, upon arrival received immediate medical care and were provided housing from the state in Tinley Park, Elgin, Alton and Rockford. A total of 4,455 victims directly contacted the state for services, according to numbers provided by the Illinois Department of Human Services. DHS also estimates over 8,600 evacuees are currently in Illinois.
- 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 more than 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.
- State of Illinois employees donated more than $91,000 to the American Red Cross Katrina Fund. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Governor encouraged state employees to contribute to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. The American Red Cross uses donations like these to provide food, shelter, counseling and other assistance to victims of disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
- 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 partnership between state government and the private sector is helping find jobs for people displaced by two major Gulf hurricanes who are now living in Illinois. IDES is working with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Illinois employers with 250 or more employees to identify job openings for hurricane evacuees living in Illinois. More than 70 companies responded to the call and have identified hundreds of jobs.
- A group of more than 100 state employees returned to Illinois after helping 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 reached 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.
- Illinois established 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.
- 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.