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updated: 5/11/2013 2:15 PM

Local officials welcome federal disaster designation

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  • Rebecca Cavanaugh rides in a canoe pushed by her aunt, Tina Dace of Evanston, and her sister, Robin, as they leave the flooded Big Bend neighborhood in Des Plaines last month.

       Rebecca Cavanaugh rides in a canoe pushed by her aunt, Tina Dace of Evanston, and her sister, Robin, as they leave the flooded Big Bend neighborhood in Des Plaines last month.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
Daily Herald staff report

Local officials Saturday welcomed President Barack Obama action declaring suburban counties hit by heavy flooding last month federal disaster areas, saying it will help the recovery.

The announcement late Friday makes federal assistance programs available to local flood victims. Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois congressional delegation had sent a letter to Obama Thursday asking for the help.

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Officials pointed to more than 800 houses in 11 counties that were either destroyed or badly damaged by flooding in requesting special aid. Counties named in Obama's declaration include Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will. Available help includes grants and low-interest loans to home and business owners to clean up or repair damaged property.

Among the hardest hit suburbs was Des Plaines, where flooding affected more than 2,000 properties and closed major thoroughfares for more than a week.

New Mayor Matt Bogusz said the city isn't yet releasing damage estimates for either its initial response or subsequent cleanup, but pointed to less severe floods that cost millions of dollars.

Bogusz, who said the city could recoup up to 75 percent of its associated expenses from the federal government, was pleased with the quick response.

"It was an unprecedented flooding event that really required unprecedented response from the city, the governor and the president," Bogusz said.

In Lisle, flood response cost the village, park district, public works department and fire district nearly $250,000 in total, it's estimated.

"There are many of our residents who don't even have flood insurance, and this is going to help them out," said Lisle Mayor Joe Broda. "We were keeping our fingers crossed that we would, in fact, qualify because it's really going to aid our folks in moving forward."

The presidential disaster declaration came surprisingly quickly -- only one day after Quinn's letter was sent, said David Gervino, emergency management coordinator for the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"This could provide financial assistance to residents in terms of grants for home repairs or replacement of essential items not covered by insurance," Gervino said.

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen noted that federal aid isn't automatic, recalling that several years ago when a tornado struck and devastated a small town in downstate Illinois, the White House denied assistance.

"It's a very fortunate decision," he said, adding the fact so many counties were flooded helped the region meet federal criteria. The declaration will also make it easier for people to claim property damage on their home insurance policies, Lauzen said.

Kane County residents with questions about obtaining aid can call (630) 232-5930, he added.

Some of the worst flooding in Elgin hit residents with the least resources, Mayor David Kaptain said. "Many of these people aren't the wealthiest so to lose a few thousand dollars of their property or damage to their heating plant is a blow. We're very grateful."

Donald "Donny" Schmit, who takes over Tuesday as Fox Lake's mayor, said the hard-hit village has had crews performing damage assessments that'll help when residents or business owners seek assistance from the federal government or insurance. He said he intends to hold a meeting Thursday to be updated on the extent of damage in Fox Lake.

Schmit said he saw the damage up close when he assisted in sandbagging operations. He said Fox Lake residents won't need to go it alone when they seek the financial help.

"We'll get all the information and make it available to our residents," he said.

For more information, people can call the Federal Emergency Management Agency at (800) 621-3362 or go to disasterassistance.gov.

Daily Herald staff writers Mike Riopell, Bob Susnjara, Marie Wilson, Marni Pyke and Kim Pohl contributed to this report.

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