Early Thursday afternoon, Mayor Anthony Calderone got a call he’d hoped for but wasn’t counting on – federal and state inspectors were on their way to Forest Park to check and document flood damage firsthand.
“It was a surprise,” Calderone said, who both the morning and the afternoon before told the Review what he’d noted earlier in the week: “We don’t know if they’re coming to Forest Park. They may not make every town.”
Inspectors from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration were in Chicago’s western suburbs last week, going through neighborhoods in Cook and DuPage counties, to assess damage from flooding after the intense rainfall of July 23.
Their focus were communities hit the hardest. Local stops started Monday in Elmhurst and Cicero.
But by mid-afternoon Thursday, Calderone and Village Administrator Tim Gillian were guiding the eight-person team on a house-to-house tour of the most flood-damaged blocks in the village: the 500 and 600 blocks of Marengo, and the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Elgin. Calderone said they knocked on every door and that, at one house, the knock startled one woman who said, “I thought you were the police!”
As this fact-finding team of federal and state inspectors worked here, FEMA representatives were part of similar teams convoying through FEMA’s Region V, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
The teams will use the information gathered at each stop to present findings to Gov. Pat Quinn, who – assuming sufficient damage is found – would then present a request to President Barack Obama for a disaster declaration. Federal help can come only if the president declares an area a disaster site.
The governor’s office has 30 days from the date of the disaster it declared to file for federal aid. It has an Aug. 23 deadline to file with Washington, D.C.
Forest Park is among 11 suburbs and one township in Cook County that filed paperwork for declaration as a disaster area. Cook County is one of 12 counties that Gov. Pat Quinn declared disaster areas on July 30.
Calderone said that, as of Monday – the Aug. 16 due date for the damage forms to be filed with the village clerk – about 300 had been turned in.
“One of the things we did during the FEMA tour was, if we saw people on their porches, I asked if they had turned in their damage questionnaires. Many people we spoke to told us, ‘Oh, I thought I had a few days yet.’ If I had it to do over, I would have set the deadline earlier to create a sense of urgency.”
FEMA reps asked just a few questions of each homeowner, Calderone said. They wanted to know how many inches of water came into the residence, what appliances – such as washers, dryers and furnaces – were totaled and “Do you have insurance?”
That last question matters because FEMA only covers uninsured losses.
At a meeting Wednesday morning in Westchester with municipal leaders from the flood-damaged areas, the governor and U. S. Reps. Danny Davis and Dan Lipinski made it clear that pressure on the White House is strong for federal declaration of disaster areas in Illinois. “We’ve got the two Dan’s on this,” Quinn said, nodding to Davis and Lipinski.
As Calderone and Gillian have been at all the other such meetings of mayors and village presidents seeking any possible assistance for their communities, they were present and listening in Westchester on Wednesday, too. After that meeting, they each offered cautionary notes.
“It’s more of the same conversation. It’s all part of the process,” Gillian told the Review, adding that the dance steps to get in line for federal aid may not lead to federal aid and that, if they do, that aid alone won’t make everything better.
“Even if the declaration is made, FEMA won’t come in here with a machine printing money,” Gillian said.
Calderone pointed out that the village is now receiving FEMA checks for damage done to municipal property during the rainstorms of September 2008.
“If the president does make this declaration, the only thing we’ll see right away is a swarm of federal workers collecting even more information,” the mayor said.
Helen Karakoudas Redfern contributed to this story.