CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today asked President Bush to declare five Metro East counties as federal disaster areas in the wake of the severe storms that battered that region a week ago and again last Friday. A federal disaster declaration would enable people, businesses and local governments in the affected areas to apply for grants and loans to help with storm-related losses. Counties in the Governor’s request include St. Clair, Madison, Clinton, Jefferson and Washington.
The Governor had declared all five counties disaster areas, with Washington County being declared today. The state declaration makes it possible for local units of government to be partially reimbursed for extraordinary costs incurred during the disaster response and cleanup.
“The Metro East region was hit especially hard twice by these storms, hundreds of thousands of people have been without electricity and some have lost their homes. We know that the road to recovery in this region will be a long one, so today I asked President Bush for federal assistance,” said Gov. Blagojevich after reviewing the first damage assessment reports submitted by local officials.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is expected to be on site Friday morning to begin a Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA), the first step toward securing a federal declaration. The initial reports submitted by local officials showed more than 2,600 homes damaged in the five-county area, and those numbers included totals from just a handful of communities. Included in that number were eight homes destroyed and 180 that had sustained major damage.
The state has been intensively involved with response and recovery efforts in the Metro East since last week. The Governor directed agencies to aid in response, including:
• Directed the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and county Emergency Services and Disaster agencies to work with the local Red Cross to establish cooling centers in the area during the early days of the power outage, when heat indexes reached 115 degrees.
• Activated the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield on Friday to coordinate state response efforts to the storm-ravaged areas. The Governor also dispatched the Illinois Emergency Management Agency’s Unified Area Command, or UAC, vehicle to the Metro East. The UAC is providing coordinated assistance with the recovery efforts in the entire region.
• Dispatched State Damage Assessment Teams to identify the areas of greatest need on Thursday, and to evaluate the damage.
• Instructed the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily waive the requirement that gasoline distributors sell a special gasoline blend in the Metro East region.
• Sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S.EPA) requesting waivers to avoid any fuel shortages following the devastating storms that roared through southwestern Illinois late last week. The U.S. EPA has granted Governor’s Blagojevich’s request to waive the requirement that gasoline distributors sell a special gasoline blend in the Metro East region (St. Clair, Madison and Monroe). The waiver is for 10 days and will be effective through Aug. 4, 2006.
• Directed the Illinois EPA to expedite the review of the construction permits requested by ConocoPhillips to install portable cooling towers so that their refinery in Wood River, IL can resume production after sustaining damage in this week’s storms.
• Sent equipment and staff from IDOT to the affected areas to remove the downed trees, branches and other debris.
• Dispatched dozens of work crews from the Department of Corrections to provide much needed labor.
• Activated the Department of Human Services Emergency helpline for Metro East residents in need of social services. The toll free number is 1-800-568-0446 voice or 1-800-447-6404 TTY.
To date, Illinois departments and agencies have responded by providing the following aid and assistance:
• The Department of Natural Resources provided chain saws and operators for debris removal;
• The Illinois State Police provided law enforcement assistance, upon request, to local law enforcement agencies;
• IEMA distributed more than 15,000 ready-to-eat meals;
• DHS issued replacement food stamps to 10,000 people whose food was destroyed;
• IEMA delivered 18,750 bags of ice;
• IDOC delivered more than 85,000 8-oz. containers of water;
• Thirty-nine inmate work crews were dispatched; and,
• More than 150 IDOT trucks, chippers, backhoes and end loaders were used to help remove more than 275,000 cubic yards of debris.