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Quinn, Senators Furious After FEMA Denies Tornado Aid

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Extensive damage after an EF-4 tornado hit Harrisburg, Ill. (Credit: Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

Extensive damage after an EF-4 tornado hit Harrisburg, Ill. (Credit: Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — Both U.S. Senators from Illinois, and Gov. Pat Quinn, are unhappy with the decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deny disaster aid to Southern Illinois counties ravaged by tornadoes.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, seven people were killed by a powerful tornado on Fen. 29 in downstate Harrisburg. Hundreds more were injured, and dozens of buildings were destroyed.

Quinn’s office on Thursday had sought a major disaster declaration for the state from the federal government, and assistance for downstate Gallatin, Randolph, Saline, Union and Williamson counties.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

But FEMA denied the request. In a letter to Quinn on Saturday announcing its decision, said: “Based on our review of all the information available, it has been determined that the damage was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments and voluntary agencies.”

Quinn sharply criticized the decision the following day.

“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 Sunday in a statement.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) also issued a statement Sunday denouncing the ruling and seeking a meeting with FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate to discuss the decision, which they called “unacceptable.”

“I can’t believe this,” Durbin said Sunday in Springfield, according to the State Journal-Register. “I’ve never seen worse tornado damage. We owe it to the people to make sure damage was accurate and everything was accounted for.”

Kirk is still recovering from a stroke, but a representative from his office would also attend the meeting.

Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said Sunday that a decision had not yet been made on whether to appeal FEMA’s decision. She said the governor supported Durbin’s efforts to work with federal officials and that his office has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the decision.

FEMA spokesman Mark J. Peterson on Sunday evening reiterated that his agency’s review found the damage to be within the capabilities of state and local government and other groups to manage. He said FEMA has worked closely with the state and local governments since the tornadoes. He said the state can work “with other federal agencies” and that “FEMA remains committed to working with Illinois in its recovery.”

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