More people were killed and more homes destroyed in the five southern Illinois counties that were hit by tornadoes a couple of weeks ago than when a similar storm ravaged Sangamon County and surrounding counties six years ago.

More people were killed and more homes destroyed in the five southern Illinois counties that were hit by tornadoes a couple of weeks ago than when a similar storm ravaged Sangamon County and surrounding counties six years ago.


Despite the serious damage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced March 10 that it will not declare the areas around Harrisburg, where seven people were killed, a federal disaster area, even though it did so with Sangamon County six years ago. Gov. Pat Quinn announced Friday that he’s appealing that decision, and FEMA plans to re-evaluate the areas struck.


In southern Illinois on Feb. 29, 104 homes were destroyed, 50 had major damage, 139 had minor damage, and 133 were affected in some way, according to Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson. Businesses were also in the path, with 10 of them suffering major damage and 23 affected in some way.


In and around Sangamon County on  March 12, 2006, 60 homes were destroyed, 130 homes and 80 businesses suffered major damage and 904 homes and 160 businesses sustained minor damage. But no one was killed.


Thompson declined to compare the devastation in Harrisburg and Springfield. The destruction—as well as the aftereffects—will be different because the two communities are different, particularly in size, she said.


“I don’t know that I really could (make the comparison). Every disaster is so different, and I would have to look at the numbers in Springfield. But whatever numbers I have for that, you’d be comparing a city of over 100,000 with a city of less than 10,000,” Thompson said. “… I don’t even know if it would be a valid comparison because of the differences in the communities.”


Last week, FEMA sent a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn outlining the agency’s reasons for denying federal assistance to Gallatin, Randolph, Saline, Union and Williamson counties.


“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,” the letter to Quinn read. “Accordingly, we have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary.


 


Individual aid


Thompson was unable to estimate how much money in damage the two storms caused, saying her agency focuses on what kind of damage buildings suffered.


But there are dollar amounts in Illinois’ preliminary damage assessment report, which states are required to submit when seeking federal disaster assistance. The amount of aid FEMA believes it would give to individuals from the most recent tornadoes would far exceed what the agency made available six years ago to individuals in Springfield.


According to FEMA officials, if aid was made available to the five southern Illinois counties, it would be a little under $3.3 million in individual assistance. Of that, about $119,000 would go to temporary housing for disaster victims, $1.18 million would go to repairing homes, while $1.6 million would go to replacing homes entirely. The agency is also estimating $388,000 would be needed for other things.


Additional money would be coming through the U.S. Small Business Administration, which grants low-interest loans to individuals and businesses in federal disaster areas. FEMA is estimating $5.3 million in loans for individuals and $4.6 million for businesses across the five counties.


FEMA approved $1.06 million for individual-assistance grants to the victims of the 2006 Springfield tornadoes and doled out nearly $11 million in public assistance grants to local governments. The SBA provided more than $2.2 million in loans, according to State Journal-Register archives.


 


State assistance


How the government aids disaster-stricken individuals and businesses varies. State government, which is already fiscally addled, provides no money to disaster victims.


 “We really don’t have a program that’s similar to FEMA’s grant program where we could give grant money to people to help them with some of these issues,” Thompson said. “Regardless of the finances, there’s not even that mechanism there to allow us to do that.”


When the governor declares a disaster, Illinois’ various resources can be used in recovery efforts.


For example, Department of Corrections inmates load debris into trucks from the Department of Transportation. State police officers provide security in certain areas.


“They (communities) don’t have to contract out, which would be an added expense for them,” Thompson said. Such resources typically are used during normal work hours.


Affected counties also are able to tap into the state’s Disaster Relief Fund, which covers up to 50 percent of cleanup costs.


Various agencies can help in different ways. One example is that on March 8, the Illinois Department of Human Services said it would issue replacement Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits—once referred to as food stamps—for food that was lost in the Feb. 29 storms.


 


Federal assistance


FEMA, on the other hand, offers programs that give direct financial assistance to individuals and businesses affected by the disaster.


Individuals can receive disaster assistance grants that normally go toward housing needs not covered by insurance, including repairs, temporary housing or replacement of a home.


These grants can also be used to pay for other disaster-related expenses, including medical and funeral costs.


Businesses that operated within the federal disaster area can receive low-interest loans from the SBA as a result of the declaration.


“That’s really where the bulk of the federal assistance ends up coming through, because you can take out a loan to do most of the rebuilding to your home,” Thompson said. “Whereas the grants that come through the federal assistance are very helpful, but in very few cases would they make people whole again.”


There’s assistance for local governments as well. FEMA has a public assistance grant program that splits the cost of the cleanup between federal and state governments. The federal government, through FEMA, pays up to 75 percent of the cleanup, while the state pays the remaining 25 percent, a program utilized by the city of Springfield in 2006.


 


Six years ago


On March 12, 2006, two tornadoes ripped through parts of Springfield and surrounding communities, devastating homes, businesses and local infrastructure.


“We didn’t have buildings totally flattened or anything, but many of them were pulled off their foundations and damaged severely enough they had to be torn down,” said Ernie Slottag, communication director for the city of Springfield.


Sangamon, Greene, Logan, Morgan, Randolph and Scott counties were declared state disaster areas a few days later by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, similar to how Quinn declared Harrisburg and the surrounding areas on Feb. 29.


On March 29, 2006, President George W. Bush declared Sangamon and the other counties a federal disaster area, paving the way for FEMA to come in.


One report put the private property damage suffered by Springfield residents above $100 million.


FEMA approved 515 applications for individual assistance, although Mark Peterson, FEMA spokesman out of their Region V (Midwest) office, said the number of people who applied was higher.


One of the hardest-hit areas was in Jerome. Village president Harry Stirmell said he had to repair the roofs on both his house and his garage, and that some of his property was damaged when it was hit by a blown-away sign from a golf course. Fortunately for Stirmell, his insurance was able to pay for his repairs.


“Most people here, their insurance took care of their damages. (FEMA) did come in, and there was money distributed based upon all of the expenses and man-hours and whatever Jerome put into the cleanup,” Stirmell said.


Stirmell said he was thankful for any assistance, whether it was from FEMA or local authorities, that were given to his village in 2006.


Slottag described the support FEMA gave Springfield in 2006 as being critical.


 “I think it was very, very essential to getting the city back to normal,” he said. “We had the resources, with their support, to get the power back on and the streets cleared. But a lot of the people who had property damage and needed to get things repaired, needed the resources to get things done, relied on FEMA. So it was very critical for us to get back on our feet. No question.”


 


David Thomas can be reached at 782-6292