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FEMA Denies Disaster Status for Southern Illinois Storms


The federal government has denied disaster status for the parts of southern Illinois affected by deadly storms and tornadoes last month. That means it will be more difficult for individuals and local governments to get federal assistance to recover.

In Harrisburg, a tornado killed seven people. Across the region, storms destroyed 104 homes, with hundreds more suffering serious damage. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a formula that weighs the amount of damage against the overall population of the state - a dollar of damage per capita.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) learned Sunday morning that southern Illinois did not qualify. He spoke to reporters outside his Springfield home that afternoon.

"I can't believe it," Durbin said. "I was there a little over a week ago and saw it first-hand. I've never seen worse tornado damage."

FEMA would need to have found about $12 million in damage in order to make the federal disaster declaration, according to Durbin. He said the damage seemed severe enough that that figure should have been within reach.

In a statement, Gov. Pat Quinn said he is extremely disappointed by FEMA's decision to deny the request for federal assistance.

"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.

"Without the federal designation, there are limited opportunities for federal help," Durbin said. "And take a look at what's happening here with our own state treasury. There's a limited opportunity there to compensate for these losses."

Government assistance can take the form of grants to local government and low-interest loans to small businesses. It can also help people whose losses exceed their insurance.

"I have just never seen worse devastation, and I find it hard to imagine that it didn't qualify," Durbin said.

Durbin said he and fellow Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk are preparing a joint appeal of the decision. It's something he said he's tried only once before - after the South Pekin tornado in 2003 - and that appeal was unsuccessful.