CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois politicians reacted angrily on Monday to the disaster agency’s rejection of the state’s application for federal aid to rebuild from a deadly tornado that killed seven people in a single town last month.
Governor Pat Quinn said he was preparing an appeal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s denial of aid for five counties in southern Illinois including the town of Harrisburg, where seven people died.
That February 29 storm, rated an EF-4 by the National Weather Service or one notch below the most powerful twisters, was the first of two tornado outbreaks in one week that killed more than 50 people across eight states.
“This decision by FEMA is unacceptable and out of touch with the reality that residents of Harrisburg, Ridgway and the surrounding areas are facing as the storm clean-up continues,” Illinois’ two U.S. Senators, Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk, said in a joint statement.
FEMA administrator Craig Fugate issued a statement saying the agency turned Illinois down because there was adequate support from other sources, namely “voluntary agencies, faith-based groups and the private sector ...(and) the State and local governments.”
Fugate went on to commend the state for its response and said that FEMA officials were “committed to working with Illinois throughout this recovery process.”
Other federal agencies such as the Small Business Administration can provide loans, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office can locate alternative housing for those who lost homes, he said.
“Every disaster is different, with unique circumstances, and in some cases a governor’s request might not be approved,” Fugate said, adding Quinn had 30 days to appeal the decision.
Another factor FEMA considers is the level of private insurance in the affected area, Fugate said. Quinn said he believed FEMA was wrong about the storm’s impact.
“I met with local officials, spent time with residents and saw firsthand the devastation and damage caused by the tornado in Southern Illinois. FEMA underestimated the impact this deadly tornado had on small towns like Harrisburg and Ridgway,” Quinn said in a statement.
Quinn said he spoke to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and asked her to reconsider the decision on Illinois’ request by FEMA, which falls under her purview.
A FEMA spokesman would not estimate the rate of rejection for disaster assistance. A request by Clermont County in southwestern Ohio where two people were killed by a tornado on March 2 was previously rejected by FEMA.
By contrast, hard-hit Kentucky was granted a disaster declaration from that same swarm of March 2 tornadoes and will receive federal aid.
“In a tornado, a lot of that damage is insured, or localized,” said Mark Merritt, president of a Washington disaster consultancy, referring to the irregular damage caused by tornadoes.
Requests for disaster assistance from the federal government are more frequently rejected than those for events such as floods or hurricanes, he said.
Reporting By Andrew Stern in Chicago and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Johnston