SPRINGFIELD – In a continuing effort to help the New Orleans Fire Department recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina last month, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today directed an additional 118 Illinois firefighters to Louisiana. With this contingent, more than 900 Illinois firefighters have been deployed to the Gulf Coast to assist with response to one of the nation’s largest natural disasters in history.
“The people of Louisiana still need our help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While they focus on rebuilding their homes and their lives, Illinois firefighters are there to lend a helping hand,” Gov. Blagojevich said.
The latest firefighter contingent will leave Illinois Friday and will be in New Orleans until October 14. No new fire trucks are being sent with this group, which will use eight engines and two ladder trucks from Illinois that are already in New Orleans. More than 200 firefighters who have been in Louisiana since mid-September are expected to return to Illinois this weekend.
The Governor commended the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System for enabling Illinois to send more than 900 highly trained and dedicated firefighters to this disaster area.
“The ability to quickly mobilize hundreds of firefighters and critical equipment to a disaster anywhere, whether in Illinois or elsewhere in the nation, is a tremendous asset for the state’s emergency preparedness plan,” said the Governor.
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 nearly 2,600 Illinoisans to help Louisiana respond to the devastation resulting from Hurricane Katrina. The deployments include 900 firefighters and more than 1,100 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, Alton, Elgin and Rockford where the displaced victims arrived.
- 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.