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Governor visits flooded communities
in northeastern Illinois    
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Declares Lake County and parts of Cook County state disaster areas

[MAY 27, 2004]  GURNEE -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich took an aerial tour Wednesday of flooded communities along the Des Plaines River, meeting with local elected officials and community leaders in Gurnee to declare Lake County and six townships in Cook County state disaster areas.

"I'm inspired by the way this community has pulled together to make sure neighbors are safe and to preserve endangered buildings and homes. I heard there were nearly 300 students, parents and teachers on hand when the flood hit to help sandbag the newly renovated Gurnee Grade School," said Gov. Blagojevich. "I want residents here to know that we will do whatever we can as a state to help your communities recover."

Record rainfall this spring in Wisconsin and northern Illinois has led to the highest water level in the Des Plaines River in two decades. At Gurnee, the river is considered to be at flood level when it reaches 7 feet. It crested Tuesday evening at 11.69 feet, just short of the record of 11.95 feet set in 1986.

After viewing the affected areas by helicopter, Gov. Blagojevich declared all of Lake County as well as Leyden, Lyons, Maine, Northfield, Proviso and Wheeling townships in Cook County state disaster areas. The declaration solidifies the state's commitment to helping with cleanup and allows individual property owners in the disaster areas to have damaged property reassessed within one year.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency will coordinate with other state agencies to manage cleanup. As the water recedes, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Public Health will test the local water to ensure the safety levels of drinking water. The agencies will also assist with providing vaccinations to workers and the public, if needed, and helping to dispose of used sandbags after the water returns to normal levels.

The governor's declaration is also the first step in enabling the affected communities to apply for federal disaster assistance. When the water begins to recede, a joint state and federal preliminary damage assessment will be conducted to determine whether the extent of damage to homes and businesses and the costs incurred by local governments during their emergency response meet the qualifying standards for federal assistance. If they qualify, the governor will formally ask President Bush to provide disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A federal declaration may entitle local residents, businesses and municipalities to financial assistance for cleanup costs.

 

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The state has been helping communities along the Des Plains River with their emergency response since Sunday, when the Illinois Emergency Management Agency activated the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield to assess the situation and coordinate assets that the state can provide to assist local responders. Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director William C. Burke and agency staff members went to the area Sunday to meet with local officials and relay requests for assistance to the State Emergency Operations Center and have been coordinating efforts on-site ever since.

--The Illinois Department of Transportation has provided 580,000 sandbags and three pallets of plastic sheeting to Lake and Cook counties, two 300-foot barrier walls to the Des Plaines Fire Department and to River Road in Des Plaines, and a discharge pump to the Illinois Commerce Commission building in Des Plaines.

--The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is providing staff from its Office of Water Resources to assist the local governments with flood management, while the law enforcement division is providing conservation police and boats.

--The Illinois State Police is helping to redirect traffic and secure the perimeter of the scene.

In addition, the American Red Cross has a shelter set up in Des Plaines, fixed feeding stations in Gurnee, and is staging 200 cleanup kits, with 500 additional kits on the way.

The flooding has not caused any deaths or serious injuries. State and local officials reminded residents to use extreme caution near floodwaters and advised parents to keep their children from playing in or near floodwaters, as rapid currents can pull them down and carry them away.

[News release from the governor's office]

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