Illinois officials — from Gov. Pat Quinn to city mayors — vowed Sunday to fight a decision by FEMA to deny Illinois’ request for federal disaster assistance to help those left reeling by a deadly tornado Feb. 29 that killed seven in Harrisburg and caused heavy damage in other communities.

Quinn said he was “extremely disappointed that FEMA denied our request for federal assistance” for those in Harrisburg, Ridgway and other communities suffering tornado damage.

“After personally surveying the damage and talking to many residents who lost their homes, I firmly believe federal assistance is crucial to help them begin the recovery process,” Quinn said.

News Sunday about denial of FEMA assistance “sent shockwaves through all of us,” Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg said Sunday night. “We plan to appeal the process. I don’t understand what their criteria were to turn us down. We need their help — we want their help.” The city, he said, “has been sacked” by the storm. “I hope the president comes to see for himself.”

Gregg said he talked with Quinn’s office Sunday morning after the decision was learned. “We want to move quickly to appeal,” he said. “That’s only fair to the families affected here. A lot of people need assistance.”

Ridgway Mayor Rebecca Mitchell, contacted Sunday evening, said she had not been told about the FEMA denial of assistance, and was shocked at the announcement.

Mitchell said she is supposed to meet Tuesday with Illinois EMA officials and was gathering information about the damage to the community. “We haven’t even been billed yet for some services” resulting from the storm, she said, adding that the city still needs to remove fallen trees and other debris. “We’re a small village and every penny counts,” she added.

In a joint statement Sunday, U.S. senators Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Mark Kirk, a Republican, said FEMA’s denial of federal funding for the five counties affected by the storm was unacceptable. They called for a meeting between members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation and the FEMA administrator to discuss Illinois’ appeal of the decision.

“This decision by FEMA is unacceptable and out of touch with the reality that residents of Harrisburg, Ridgway and the surrounding areas are facing as the storm clean-up continues,” Durbin and Kirk said.

“We fully support the appeal that Governor Quinn is putting together and would like to discuss that with Administrator Fugate and the Illinois Congressional Delegation in Washington next week,” they continued. “The damage from the storms in Southern Illinois is among the worst our state has seen in recent years. Federal funding is greatly needed to help residents and families rebuild and we will continue working to see that these communities are made whole again.”

On Thursday, Durbin and Kirk were joined by the entire Illinois Congressional Delegation sending a letter to President Obama asking him to issue a major disaster declaration for the State of Illinois and to provide relief for Gallatin, Randolph, Saline, Union and Williamson counties.

They noted the storms and tornadoes that ravaged the area left local governments, charitable organizations, voluntary agencies and evacuees taking on the initial costs of the disasters. A presidential disaster declaration would allow cities and counties to apply for federal reimbursements to help pay for storm damage repairs.

Quinn said he supports Durbin’s efforts to encourage federal officials to reconsider their decision. “In the meantime, “ he said, “I have directed Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Jonathon Monken to continue working with local officials to ensure that we do everything possible to secure critical assistance.”

Gregg said, “We want to move quickly to appeal” the denial of disaster assistance, but added, “We’re not going to let anything distract and derail us. We’re going to move forward.”

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