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Cairo residents traveling to HUD's regional office in Chicago to demonstrate with Pawar campaign
 mollyjaneparker  / 

CAIRO — Public housing residents from Cairo and Chicago are expected to gather for a demonstration in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon to demand that Housing and Urban Development and Secretary Ben Carson “meet their responsibilities” to provide safe and decent affordable housing throughout the state of Illinois.

That's according to Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ameya Pawar, Chicago’s 47th Ward alderman, and his running mate, Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman.

Cairo public housing residents and other interested citizens and community leaders are expected to leave Cairo, in a bus paid for by Pawar’s campaign, around 5 a.m. Wednesday morning and join with Chicago public housing residents and other community activists for the 2 p.m. news conference.

According to a press release from Pawar's campaign, the Chicago press conference and demonstration kicks off a multi-stop campaign tour throughout downstate Illinois they’ve billed as the “Don’t Close Our Communities Initiative.”

In addition to sharing his opinions on HUD policies and oversight failures Pawar believes are negatively affecting Cairo and some Chicago neighborhoods, Pawar also plans to talk about, according to a campaign aide, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2013 decision to close 50 public schools in predominantly poor, minority communities in Chicago’s south and west sides, which Pawar opposed. 

The demonstration is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. at City Hall, followed by a march to the Ralph H. Metcalfe Federal Building, where HUD’s Region V office is located, to demand a meeting, according to the campaign aide to Pawar. The Region V office oversees housing programs in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. 

“The people of Cairo refuse to sit idly by while their community dies. I’m inspired by their strength and resilience, and Mayor Coleman and I proudly stand with them to call on HUD Secretary Ben Carson to do his job and save the public housing units in Cairo,” Pawar said in a news release announcing the event.

“While millionaires and billionaires and political insiders continue to get wealthier and more powerful, the rest of us are struggling to get ahead. It’s time we come together as one state and demand investments over closures.”

HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said that where it concerns the effort to relocate Cairo residents from their unsafe housing complexes, "We've listened throughout this entire situation and we'll continue to do that." 

"Hopefully it isn't true that someone would leverage this terrible situation as a public relations opportunity," Brown said in response to the planned demonstration in Chicago. "That would be really sad."  

In April, HUD announced that it planned to begin relocating about 185 families, or 400 people, from two sprawling World War II-era public housing complexes because they have fallen into such poor condition that they likely cannot be rehabilitated.

The families are receiving Tenant Protection Vouchers, which subsidize rent paid to a private landlord for as long as they remain eligible for the program, as well as relocation counseling and financial assistance with their physical move. Some families have said they are optimistic about the opportunity HUD has provided them to find a place to live outside of Cairo, which has faced decades of economic decline and lacks basic amenities such as a grocery store and gas station.

But for other families, the idea of having to leave their home based on HUD’s plan to raze their public housing complexes is upsetting because they want to remain in Cairo. At issue is that there is an extreme shortage of affordable housing in Cairo, and HUD officials say the agency is no longer in the business of building public housing through an investment of federal taxpayer dollars alone.

When new affordable multifamily housing developments are constructed in communities, it’s almost always through a private-public partnership, Brown, of HUD, has said. 

Because of Cairo’s extremely depressed economy, Brown said HUD, which has been operating the Alexander County Housing Authority in administrative receivership since early 2016, has been unable to attract a private developer to the city. Still, he said as a result of HUD Secretary Carson’s visit to Cairo in early August, staff is continuing to study whether there are ways to provide additional housing options for some of the families of Elmwood and McBride in Cairo.

For example, the agency is studying a suggestion made during a meeting with city leaders about whether certain rows of buildings in the Elmwood and McBride complex can be spared in the demolition and rehabilitated, and what opportunities for families may exist at other developments in the ACHA’s portfolio, such as the Connell F. Smith Sr., senior high-rise complex located on the Ohio River or the Shuemaker building that sits directly behind it. HUD also has been working to identify a partner willing to reopen the Ralph T. Stenger apartment complex that Delta Center closed when the nonprofit folded in 2015. 

Even as HUD prepares a massive response to displaced residents affected by hurricanes and related flooding in Texas, Florida and elsewhere, Cairo is still being worked on, Brown said recently. More information should be available soon, he said. 

Mayor Coleman said he’s confident that there are buildings at Elmwood and McBride that can be saved. He said that it’s his belief that not all of the buildings are uninhabitable. “Whatever structures are still sound, whatever structures can be rehabilitated by whatever means, do that,” he said.

Coleman said he helped organize the bus trip from Cairo to Chicago “to bring attention to the situation that’s impacted the lives of many of the residents of this city, adults and children.” It was unclear to the newspaper at press time how many people from Cairo had signed up to go on the trip. 

“I don’t think it is fair the way it’s been done and dealt with and if we can still continue to bring attention to this, at some point, hopefully, HUD will take responsibility for the outcome of this particular situation,” Coleman said. “They (HUD) are the main culprit in all of this, so they need to make these people whole in the best way that they can by keeping them here, not causing them to have to leave this community.

“They were made victims, and they are innocent,” he said of the residents.

After Wednesday's event in Chicago, Coleman is scheduled to visit Urbana, Springfield and Decatur on Thursday; Brookport, Eldorado and Carbondale on Saturday; and East St. Louis, Chester and Kaskaskia on Sunday. Coleman will represent the campaign solo at these stops. Pawar is expected to join Coleman in Cairo on Friday for an event at one of the public housing complexes. 

mollyjaneparker / Provided by Ameya Pawar's campaign 

Gubernatorial hopeful Ameya Pawar, Chicago's 47th ward alderman, and his running mate, Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman, appear at a rally in Chicago on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. 

Richard Sitler / Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Sings seen in Cairo concerning the situation with the HUD public housing.

Second Southern Illinois Honor Flight set to depart Oct. 17 from Marion
 Marilyn Halstead  / 

MARION — Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois is finalizing plans for its second flight, which is to take place Oct. 17.

“We’re on schedule for Oct. 17. We have 30 World War II veterans and 37 Korean veterans slated to go,” said Nancy Brown, vice chairman of Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois.

Guardian training was Sept. 2.

“We had over 80 people show up for guardian training," Brown said. "It was unbelievable."

The organization is looking for someone who might be able to provide small backpacks or string backpacks for the veterans going on the flight. Veterans who attended the first flight were given string backpacks that they could use to hold essential items for the flight.

Veterans will be given a T-shirt and hat to wear on flight two.

“I think we are pretty much on schedule,” Brown said.

The group will do medical and mobility evaluations on all veterans on Flight 2 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois. Brown said a doctor and several nurses will be available to assess existing medical conditions and mobility of the veterans.

“Hopefully, that will allow us to board faster in Marion and get off the plane a little faster when we get back,” Brown said.

A pre-flight celebration will be at 10 a.m. Oct. 15 in Community of Faith Church in Marion. All veterans from the first honor flight are invited to attend and wear their honor flight T-shirts.

“If veterans on upcoming flight have questions, they will be easy to identify,” Brown said.

Some improvements have been planned for the welcome home party on the evening of Oct. 17 to make the event extra special and avoid some of the problems encountered after the first flight. Brown said the atmosphere will be more like a festival, with entertainment and food vendors.

Traffic control will be provided, as well as off-site parking with shuttle busses running between parking and the airport. Parking plans will be announced soon.

"We really want to encourage everyone to come out for the welcoming home party. It will be really great atmosphere with lots of activity,” Brown added.

Marion Veterans of Foreign Wars Post will host a fundraiser for Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois at 6 p.m. Friday. The event will include a quarter auction, vendors and a silent auction. Food will be available for purchase.

“You should be able to get some deals for only a quarter,” Brown said. “It should be a really good time.”

While the second flight is nearly ready to go, Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois is already looking toward its third flight. Brown said the group would like to schedule its third flight in spring 2018.

“We are very, very grateful for the community and for their support,” Brown said.

She thanked those who supported the second flight and is very positive about ability to do a third flight in the spring because of the support.

For more information or to volunteer, visit

Community grieves Carterville couple lost in last week's plane crash
 Isaac Smith  / 

CARTERVILLE — As family and friends prepare to say their final goodbyes this week to Pat and Bill Searcy — the Carterville couple who died in last week’s plane crash in West Virginia — Sister Phyllis Schenk, OP, said all are coming together to support one another.

“I think we surround one another and we are supportive of one another knowing we are all grieving,” Schenk said, adding that “we walk forward together.”

She has been assigned to the Searcy’s church, Carterville’s Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit, for just two weeks, but Schenk said she knows the community is very close and has taken the loss hard.

“This is a very close-knit community and it has been very difficult,” she said.

In her experience, she said mourning has no set time for everyone. “I know it takes as long as it takes. There is no limit,” Schenk said.

In their grieving, Schenk said community members have reached out to one another and shared their memories of the Searcys, remembering the inspiring details of the couple’s lives.

On Sept. 5, the small, single-engine Cirrus SR20 went off of radar in West Virginia — Gary Schaefer, manager of Southern Illinois Airport in Carbondale, said the plane originated from his airport but had actually taken off from Delaware.

Local authorities were notified that a plane had gone missing near the Wetzel and Harrison county line — a dense wooded area. Harrison County Sheriff Robert Matheny said the area was searched both on the ground as well as from the air.

Deputy Chief Jim Copenhaver with the Harrison County Sheriff's Department said that at about 4:30 p.m. Sept. 7, he was notified that the plane was located in Wetzel County by a search and rescue team. He said he had no information about the occupants of the aircraft.

Locally, word had already circulated that the pilot and passenger were Bill and and Pat Searcy as early as the evening of Sept. 6.

“Special prayer request...please raise your voice in prayer to our Lord, Jesus for Bill and Pat Searcy. There is a on-going search in three counties of West Virginia for their plane,” read a Facebook post made by Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit.

Brian Flath, a Church of the Holy Spirit member, said he had heard the rumors circulating Tuesday and by Friday had been told officially the Searcys were, indeed, the missing couple.

On Sept. 7, the church announced a prayer service for Bill and Pat.

“The Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit in Carterville will host a prayer vigil for Bill and Pat Searcy tomorrow morning (Friday) at 7 am. Please join us if you can and keep praying,” a post to the Church’s Facebook page read.

Metro News in West Virginia confirmed Sept. 7 there were no survivors of the crash.

The Southern tried to verify with local officials details pertaining to the incident but were given no comment from the chief medical examiner’s office as well as the local sheriff’s office — all questions were deferred to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Terry Williams, a public affairs officer with the NTSB, could only confirm the NTSB investigation. He said investigators arrived Friday the document the scene.

Williams said weather is one thing the NTSB team will consider while trying to get to the bottom of what happened to the Searcys. However he said it was too early to tell.

“No we do not have any preliminary idea of what brought the aircraft down,” Williams said. He said the investigation should take about one year to complete.

Visitation for the Searcys will be 4 p.m. Friday at Riggin-Pillatsch & Burke Funeral Home in Carterville and a funeral mass will be held 10 a.m. Saturday at  the Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit in Carterville.

Memorial contributions may be made to Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Anne West Lindsey Library, Carterville Rotary/Honor Wreaths, or to P.A.W.S. in Anna. 

FEMA estimates 25 percent of Florida Keys homes are gone

LOWER MATECUMBE KEY, Fla. — With 25 percent of the homes in the Florida Keys feared destroyed, emergency workers Tuesday rushed to find Hurricane Irma's victims — dead or alive — and deliver food and water to the stricken island chain.

As crews labored to repair the lone highway connecting the Keys, residents of some of the islands closest to Florida's mainland were allowed to return and get their first look at the devastation.

"It's going to be pretty hard for those coming home," said Petrona Hernandez, whose concrete home on Plantation Key with 35-foot walls was unscathed, unlike others a few blocks away. "It's going to be devastating to them."

But because of disrupted phone service and other damage, the full extent of the destruction was still a question mark, more than two days after Irma roared into the Keys with 130 mph winds.

Elsewhere in Florida, life inched closer to normal, with some flights again taking off, many curfews lifted and major theme parks reopening. Cruise ships that extended their voyages and rode out the storm at sea began returning to port with thousands of passengers.

The number of people without electricity in the steamy late-summer heat dropped to 9.5 million — just under half of Florida's population. Utility officials warned it could take 10 days or more for power to be fully restored. About 110,000 people remained in shelters across Florida.

The number of deaths blamed on Irma in Florida climbed to 12, in addition to four in South Carolina and two in Georgia. At least 37 people were killed in the Caribbean.

"We've got a lot of work to do, but everybody's going to come together," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. "We're going to get this state rebuilt."

In hard-hit Naples, on Florida's southwest coast, more than 300 people stood outside a Publix grocery store in the morning, waiting for it to open.

A manager came to the store's sliding door with occasional progress reports. Once he said that workers were throwing out produce that had gone bad; another time, that they were trying to get the cash registers working.

One man complained loudly that the line had too many gaps. Others shook their heads in frustration at word of another delay.

At the front of the line after a more than two-hour wait, Phill Chirchirillo, 57, said days without electricity and other basics were beginning to wear on people.

"At first it's like, 'We're safe, thank God.' Now they're testy," he said. "The order of the day is to keep people calm."

Irma's rainy remnants, meanwhile, pushed through Alabama and Mississippi after drenching Georgia. Flash-flood watches and warnings were issued across the Southeast.

While nearly all of Florida was engulfed by the 400-mile-wide storm, the Keys — home to about 70,000 people — appeared to be the hardest hit. Drinking water and power were cut off, all three of the islands' hospitals were closed, and the supply of gasoline was extremely limited.

Search-and-rescue teams made their way into the more distant reaches of the Keys, and an aircraft carrier was positioned off Key West to help. Officials said it was not known how many people ignored evacuation orders and stayed behind in the Keys.

Monroe County began setting up shelters and food-and-water distribution points for Irma's victims in the Keys.

Crews also worked to repair two washed-out, 300-foot sections of U.S. 1, the highway that runs through the Keys, and check the safety of the 42 bridges linking the islands.

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said preliminary estimates suggested that 25 percent of the homes in the Keys were destroyed and 65 percent sustained major damage.

"Basically, every house in the Keys was impacted," he said.

In Islamorada, a trailer park was devastated, the homes ripped apart as if by a giant claw. A sewage-like stench hung over the place.

Debris was scattered everywhere, including refrigerators, washers and dryers, a 25-foot fishing boat and a Jacuzzi. Homes were torn open to give a glimpse of their contents, including a bedroom with a small Christmas tree decorated with starfish.

One man and his family came to check on a weekend home and found it destroyed. The sight was too much to bear. The man told his family to get back in the car, and they drove off toward Miami.

In Key Largo, Lisa Storey and her husband said they had yet to be contacted by the power company or by city, county or state officials. As she spoke to a reporter, a helicopter passed overhead.

"That's a beautiful sound, a rescue sound," she said.

Authorities stopped people and checked for documentation such as proof of residency or business ownership before allowing them back into the Upper Keys, including Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada.

The Lower Keys — including the chain's most distant and most populous island, Key West, with 27,000 people — were still off-limits, with a roadblock in place where the highway was washed out.

In Lower Matecumbe Key, just south of Islamorada, 57-year-old Donald Garner checked on his houseboat, which had only minor damage. Nearby, three other houseboats were partially sunk. Garner had tied his to mangroves.

"That's the only way to make it," said Garner, who works for a shrimp company.

Although the Keys are studded with mansions and beachfront resorts, about 13 percent of the people live in poverty and could face big obstacles as the cleanup begins.

"People who bag your groceries when you're on vacation — the bus drivers, hotel cleaners, cooks and dishwashers — they're already living beyond paycheck to paycheck," said Stephanie Kaple, who runs an organization that helps the homeless in the Keys.