CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois’ senators and Gov. Pat Quinn have sharply criticized a decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deny disaster aid to southern Illinois counties ravaged by tornadoes and said they would seek to reverse the ruling.
“After personally surveying the damage and talking to many residents who lost their homes, I firmly believe federal assistance is crucial to help them begin the recovery process,” Quinn said Sunday in a statement.
A powerful Feb. 29 tornado left seven people dead in the southern Illinois community of Harrisburg, part of a series of damaging storms that swept the area Feb. 29 through March 2.
Quinn’s office on Thursday had sought a major disaster declaration for the state and assistance for Gallatin, Randolph, Saline, Union and Williamson counties.
FEMA, in its letter to Quinn on Saturday announcing its decision, said: “Based on our review of all the information available, it has been determined that the damage was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the State, affected local governments and voluntary agencies.”
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg said he was confused by FEMA’s denial and questioned what criteria the agency used to evaluate the damage.
“How was the decision made, who made the decision and why was it made? I think that’s a fair question that needs to be answered, of course, to those that lost everything. I think there are going to be a lot of discussions in the days ahead,” Gregg told WSIL-TV.
Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk also issued a statement Sunday denouncing the ruling and seeking a meeting with FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate to discuss the decision, which they called “unacceptable.”
“We fully support the appeal that Gov. Quinn is putting together,” they said in the statement.
Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said Sunday that a decision had not yet been made on whether to appeal FEMA’s decision. She said the governor supported Durbin’s efforts to work with federal officials and that his office has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the decision.
“I can’t believe this,” Durbin said Sunday in Springfield, according to The State Journal-Register. “I’ve never seen worse tornado damage. We owe it to the people to make sure … everything was accounted for.”
FEMA spokesman Mark J. Peterson on Sunday evening reiterated that his agency’s review found the damage to be within the capabilities of state and local government and other groups to manage. He said FEMA has worked closely with the state and local governments since the tornadoes. He said the state can work “with other federal agencies” and that “FEMA remains committed to working with Illinois in its recovery.”
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