Natural disasters are terrible for anybody involved, and for small municipalities, qualifying for federal assistance is the key for bouncing back.
Harrisburg knows about bouncing back from a natural disaster after an E4 tornado ripped through the town on Feb. 29, 2012, and killed eight people.
A final assessment of the carnage showed 104 structures damaged, including 66 deemed a total loss. Harrisburg was denied a request by the Federal Emergency Management Agency because the numbers didn’t meet a $17.3 million threshold set by the agency as a qualifying market for assistance. FEMA said cleanup was estimated at $5.4 million.
After the FEMA announcement, state agencies pulled together under the auspice of then-Gov. Pat Quinn to pledge nearly $13 million in relief funding for the town.
Mayor Dale Fowler said the city received an immense amount of national exposure and it was able to capitalize on momentum moving forward.
“In the aftermath, we survived financially, and since we have maintained a balanced budget and have continued to build from it,” he said. “We were able to make some infrastructure improvements due to the support from the state.”
Since the storm, Fowler said the city has taken a very proactive stance at bringing in new businesses, cleaning up blighted areas and marketing Harrisburg as the hub of Southeastern Illinois.
“It is great when people say the town is looking good, and we are going to continue to do it, because we aren’t done,” he said.
Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens said if there is a disaster, hope is that the response would be quick enough to where those impacts would be mitigated.
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“The thing that scares a municipality more than anything is that if there is a disaster, such as a tornado, and then you don’t qualify for FEMA money,” he said. “Municipalities just don’t have the money to take that hit all at once.
“You hope, almost in a bizarre way, that the damage is bad enough. But, if it isn’t, that is where you can really get into a fix.”
Carbondale is no stranger to natural disasters.
Jackson County Emergency Management Director Derek Misener said he isn’t sure if the region has completely recovered from the 2009 super derecho.
“I don’t know if everything has been totally fixed, or will it ever be,” he said.
The May 8, 2009, super derecho included winds measuring more than 80 mph, leaving uprooted trees, downed power lines and utility poles — and millions of dollars of damage to businesses and residences along its path. Peak wind gusts of more than 80 mph were recorded at Marion and Carbondale, according to the National Weather Service in Paducah.
Misener said agencies or municipalities can’t budget for disaster, saying at the end of the day, that's what insurance is for.
“We respond accordingly with every asset that we have available to us that are necessary,” he said. “After the fact, we look at paying for it.”
Misener said municipalities having enough funds in a contingency fund is important because those costs from a disaster have to be paid for out of somewhere.