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Cook, DuPage, 10 other counties declared disaster areas after flooding
But state officials say more damage assessment is needed before applying for federal funds

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Angie Leventis Lourgos and Kristen Schorsch

As flood victims across the region sifted through their rain-soaked homes and businesses, Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday declared Cook, DuPage and 10 other storm-ravaged counties disaster areas.

But state officials said more flood-damage assessment is necessary before they can request federal funds to help pay for the damage.

Quinn's declaration allows the state to provide resources such as trucks, materials and work crews. The state treasurer's office will also seek banks willing to give low-interest loans to residents and business owners who were victims of flooding. Beyond that, it would take a federal disaster decree for many flood victims to get government funding.

Westchester Mayor Sam Pulia and other suburban officials Monday pressed for the federal government to declare the region a disaster area, which would allow owners of flooded homes to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

"We know that there isn't any amount of money that will make our people whole," said Pulia at a news conference. "They've lost heirlooms, property and things in the basement. You just have to drive around here. It makes you sick."

But he said federal aid could help repair some of the flood wreckage.

Westchester was one of the hardest-hit towns, with rain counts totaling more than 7 inches in 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service. Pulia said he has no cost estimates yet. The storm destroyed public safety vehicles, streets, sidewalks and other municipal infrastructure, all of which will have to be replaced. Many residents reported basements flooded to the ceiling, and several feet of water filling first floors.

"There are people who now can't even live in their homes, including me," said resident Shannon Swindle, 34, who is staying with her parents in Chicago. "I'm pregnant, and it's uninhabitable now. It's covered in bacteria, mold and sewage."

Pulia and other officials asked that flood victims fill out damage assessment forms at their city and village halls, in the hopes that the total would be large enough to prompt a federal disaster declaration.

At a meeting later Monday in Forest Park, David Ramos, executive director of Cook County's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, urged flood victims to take pictures of their damaged possessions to help with the government assistance process.

The Cook County Board on Tuesday also plans to declare roughly two dozen suburbs and parts of Chicago disaster areas.

One of those is Riverside, which already was operating this year with a lean staff and monitoring overtime due to the recession. Village Manager Peter Scalera estimated the weather cost the village more than $50,000 in overtime and equipment used, such as street barricades, generators and 2,000 sandbags.

"Our hope is that if the area is declared a disaster, hopefully we will be able to get some sort of reimbursement down the line," Scalera said.

Oak Park, which counted 8.33 inches of rainfall, will begin collecting the debris — everything from soaked furniture to moldy carpeting to wrecked appliances — Tuesday morning, officials said.

About 500 people packed Bryan Middle School auditorium in Elmhurst on Monday night to talk about how to recover from the flooding. Marcia Hoerich said her basement had about 10 inches of water.

"I have a lifetime of memories and things stored down there," said Hoerich, whose destroyed belongings included photos of her parents during the Great Depression. "It's all ruined."

Lake Michigan beaches, including those along Chicago's 26-mile lakefront, remained closed to swimmers Monday because of contaminated storm-water overflow.

TribLocal reporter Annemarie Mannion and freelance reporter Victoria Pierce contributed to this report.

eleventis@tribune.com

klschorsch@tribune.com


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