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Durbin surveys flood damage

Monday, August 02, 2010
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Senator Dick Durbin got a firsthand look at some of the areas affected by flooding more than a week ago in the western suburbs.

Before taking a tour of the area, he heard from suburban leaders and residents who were still trying to recover from severe storms that moved through the area July 23-24.

Present at the meeting at Elmhurst City Hall were the mayors of Carol Stream, Hillside, Westchester, Elmhurst, Bellwood and many other municipalities. Representatives from county, state and federal emergency disaster agencies also attended.

Town mayors were not only asking for funds to clean up the recent flooding, but they also requested help finding future solutions to flood problems, which they say occur too frequently. They say they need help to divert floodwaters to the forest preserves.

"It's created a lot of hardship, some of it irritating and minor when your basement's flooded out, some much more significant in terms of business interruptions and losses," Durbin said. "We have to find out what we can do. We can't save every soul and help every person. We want to make sure what we are eligible for we apply for and work for aggressively."

It's been nearly ten days since the floodwaters receded from an Elmhurst neighborhood but as Senator Durbin found out when touring one damaged home, residents are still dealing with the aftermath. Some have had to move out temporarily and others are wondering where they will get the money to replace what they lost.

"If I start doing the work, what happens if it rains again? I can't live like that, worrying about if it is going to rain every day. So I said I just have to beef up my insurance," said Mary Stasch, flood victim.

"The insurance companies have come out but there is a maximum of what they will provide which is nowhere near what we lost and we don't qualify, we understand, for flood insurance," said Celes Leonard, flood victim.

For those without insurance, federal aid, if it comes, should help but the affected communities have not finished their damage assessment reports and that is delaying the process.

"By federal standards and by the size of this event, it is a timely response. Now, is it going to be enough, I don't know, but at least we have to go through each of these steps. Governor Quinn declared it a state disaster area. Then we go to the federal level and find out what is left," said Durbin.

During Durbin's meeting with community leaders, there was a lot of frustration at what appears to becoming a chronic problem for the communities. It's a problem that in some cases could be reduced by infrastructure improvements if they had the money to are carry them out.

"Separate our combined sources, for instance, in Forest Park, and that could easily approach $75, $80 million. We obviously don't have that kind of money. I doubt that the state does, and at this point, I'm not even certain about the federal government," said Anthony Calderone, Forest Park mayor.

Forest Park residents are also cleaning up flood damage.

"Every single block in our community, every single block was adversely affected by this flood. Some more than others but I don't know of a block in town that, as you drive through, you won't see the remnants of our last flood," said Tim Gillian, Forest Park village administrator.

Durbin says filling out the proper paper work is key before Washington even considers helping mayors say that has been a huge challenge.

"It's really hard to get residents to know they need to complete the forms," said Tim Gillian, Forest Park village administrator.

Meantime, John DiGilio wishes he had a form to fill out. The Chicago resident has heard absolutely nothing about when he and hundreds of others can move back into the flooded River City complex in the South Loop.

"That information isn't there and nobody has been giving it to us," said DiGilio.

DiGilio says the only information he is getting is through email from other residents. He feels River City, which houses 1,500 people, has been ignored.

"It is important suburbs get help, but I think it's also important that my neighbors and I are included in this," said DiGilio.

For the past ten days, DiGilio has been living at a North Side church rectory. All River City residents were evacuated ten days ago because the complex's power and plumbing are located on the flooded lower levels.

The management company and 1st Ward alderman Bob Fioretti did not return ABC7's calls.

Illinois Emergency Management Agency officials said Monday they were still in the process of collecting preliminary damage assessments. They expect to have that finished by the end of next week. Then they can apply to FEMA for financial aid. Durbin said they hope to submit their request by August 8.

If FEMA considers it appropriate, they will pass on the request to the president who has to sign a federal emergency declaration. Only then would federal funds be released.

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