HARRISBURG – The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied Illinois' appeal for aid in helping Southern Illinois recovery from a deadly Feb. 29 tornado that wrecked several communities and killed seven in Harrisburg.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, and state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, confirmed FEMA's denial in a written release Wednesday afternoon.

They say they are disappointed in the federal government and President Barack Obama for denying the governor’s appeal that a federal disaster be declared for the area. This is the second time in as many weeks FEMA has rejected aid to Southern Illinois.

The re-requested federal declaration would have applied to Gallatin, Randolph, Saline, Union and Williamson counties.

“I am very upset with the denial of our appeal for federal aid, and can’t believe that our President and FEMA Director Craig Fugate still have not come to visit the disaster area to see the devastation first hand,” Phelps said. “I know my constituents were depending on this action and are in need of federal relief funds that would greatly aid in the clean-up and rebuilding efforts that are already underway. Our next step will be to apply for federal assistance through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).”

Gov. Pat Quinn submitted an appeal for federal disaster assistance to President Obama on March 16. The request included documentation from a damage assessment that found 104 homes destroyed by severe storms and tornadoes, nearly 50 homes that suffered major damage and 276 others that were also damaged.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, was working the phones Wednesday, but was unable to convince FEMA to alter its decision.

"Obviously, Sen. Durbin is disappointed," said spokeswoman Christina Mulka.

She said Durbin will meet with state and local officials to continue investigating ways to help victims of the tornado.

"Obviously, this is not the end of the road on this," Mulka said.

The assessment, which was conducted by representatives from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Businesses Administration (SBA), also found numerous businesses sustained damage from the storms.

"It’s very disturbing news to hear that the governor’s request to appeal this outrageous decision has been denied," Forby said. "A lot of people and businesses are in need of some serious help, and it cannot be overstated enough how much that help is needed. We will now need to pursue an SBA declaration that will provide assistance to individuals and businesses through low-interest loans.”

The Red Cross Little Egypt Network is coordinating volunteer efforts and accepting monetary donations to aid in disaster relief efforts. The Little Egypt chapter can be contacted at (618) 529-1698, and donations can be sent to the chapter office at 665 North Airport Road in Murphysboro. 

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