March 16, 2012 / 5:45 PM / 5 years ago

Tornado-hit Illinois appeals federal rejection of aid

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn delivers his State of the State address to the joint session of the General Assembly in the House Chambers of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois February 1, 2012.Sarah Conard

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Friday appealed a federal decision to reject disaster aid that would help the state recover from a February 29 tornado that wiped out hundreds of homes and killed seven people in a single town.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied disaster aid to Illinois, Missouri and Ohio following two bouts of tornadoes on February 29 and March 2 that killed more than 50 people across the U.S. midsection, including seven in Harrisburg, Illinois.

Neither Missouri nor Ohio has appealed FEMA's denial of their applications for disaster assistance. Hard-hit Kentucky and Indiana were granted federal help, which comes in the form of grants, loans and other aid.

Quinn and Illinois' two U.S. senators have reacted angrily to the rejection of a major disaster declaration in five southern counties that would have qualified them for federal assistance. The state appealed the decision on Friday and provided more information about damage to support its claim.

"People in Harrisburg, Ridgway and the other communities torn apart by the tornadoes are working hard to put their lives back together," Quinn said in a statement. "For some, a full recovery may be impossible unless they receive the grants and low-interest loans that are only available through a federal disaster declaration."

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has said he was disappointed in FEMA's decision. "I went to southern Missouri and saw the serious property damage to homes and businesses, and the places where Missourians lost their lives."

But an appeal would have delayed other federal assistance, such as from the Small Business Administration, his spokesman said.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said the agency's assessments are based on factors such as the level of private insurance, private donations, and the capability of local authorities to manage the recovery.

More than 400 homes in Illinois were damaged or destroyed by storms. Harrisburg was hit by an EF-4 tornado, one notch below the most powerful twisters.

Dozens of ruined homes were being bulldozed and debris was piled up in the section of the town where the tornado struck, said First Church of God Pastor Dan Masters in Harrisburg.

People in the town of nearly 10,000 who had nicer homes that were wrecked were more likely to have insurance, but many others of lesser means needed help, he said.

While local governments and private donors were contributing, federal disaster aid would certainly help, Masters said, adding many were surprised when the initial application was rejected by FEMA.

"I don't know what criteria they used, but it's a pretty big blow here," Masters said. "But we're going to make it."

Additional reporting by Bruce Olson Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Johnston

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