Harrisburg, Illinois Still Denied FEMA Assistance After Deadly Tornadoes

Before the deadly February 2012 tornado(es), not too many people had ever heard of the little place called Harrisburg, Illinois. It’s not a vacation town, but it is home to many low-income families, veterans, and retirees.

Even though the tornado was rated as an EF4 and had caused extensive damage,  I recently learned that FEMA has denied emergency assistance to these families.

According to a March article in the Huffington Post:

“FEMA issued the ruling over the weekend, saying the damage did not constitute a federal disaster, the Chicago Tribune reports. An agency spokesman told the Tribune they determined that the communities could rebuild with assistance from state and local agencies, along with private insurance and volunteer groups.”

Do a Google image search of Harrisburg, and you will see countless photos of the damage done by these tornadoes. Their homes have been flattened, vehicles ruined, gas stations destroyed, and some of the very few places there were to shop no longer exist. Worst of all, more than a dozen people were killed and over 100 were reportedly injured.

Having been a Florida Keys resident during Hurricane Wilma’s flooding who received (as well as most everyone) assistance from FEMA, I find it unfathomable that help is being denied to Harrisburg families that are in much worse shape. (No one in the Keys died, and the majority of the homes were still salvageable.) I believe the difference between Harrisburg and the Florida Keys lies in politics.

I’d like to know if anyone from FEMA had ever visited Harrisburg prior to the disaster and had the chance to speak to its citizens? Is this the way our country treats treats its down-home folk, many of which have served or still serve in the armed forces? Don’t they deserve better from the country they serve?

Prior to the tornadoes, these are some photos around Harrisburg.

Old Cap Factory - Harrisburg, Illinois

Barber Shop in Harrisburg, Illinois

Church in Harrisburg, Illinois

School District Building - Harrisburg, Illinois

City Hall in Harrisburg, Illinois

Vine Street in Harrisburg, Illinois

Harrisburg, Illinois Law Enforcement Center

)Old Art on Building - Harrisburg, Illinois

Church - Harrisburg, Illinois

Harrisburg, Illinois Masonic Temple

Library - Harrisburg, Illinois

Fire Department - Harrisburg, Illinois

While doing research for a film script, I found these additional facts about Harrisburg:

According to the City of Harrisburg, Illinois website, Harrisburg became a city in 1889 after it was first a 20-acre village and then a town. It is also the county seat of Saline County. The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau reports that less than 25,000 people reside in the entire county, with a whopping 93% of its residents being white and a mere 4% black. Saline County got its name from the salt springs and wells in the area that the Native Americans called the “Great Salt Springs”. (Illinois Department of Natural Resources)

The area is known for its coal and farming. Coal mining began in Harrisburg in the 1850s and still employs several of its residents today. (Saline County Chamber of Commerce). Due to the Clean Air Act of 1990, the industry took a dive when its biggest plant, the Sahara Coal Company shut down shortly afterward. (“Coal is a Dirty Word” by Beverly Scobell).

According to records of The Weather Channel, Harrisburg’s average temperatures are in the 20s during the winter and the 80s during summer months. Southern Illinois is known to be a high flooding area, as it has been hit with several floods from the backup of the Ohio River over the years. The March 2008 flood left “at least nine homes… destroyed and at least 30 homes and 44 businesses had water over the first floor.” (“Jim Brown: Flooding is a continual problem for the region”, Harrisburg Daily Register, March 2009)