Ottawa, Naplate Warned Not To Expect Financial Aid After Tornadoes

CHICAGO (CBS) — The mayor of a small Illinois town hit by a tornado almost two years ago said the towns of Naplate and Ottawa should not expect to see any financial help from the state or federal governments.

“At the end of the day, we were on our own,” said Coal City Mayor Terry Halliday.

An EF-3 tornado just like the one in Naplate and Ottawa on Tuesday hit Coal City on June 23, 2015. Halladay said about 70 homes in Coal City were leveled and there was damage to hundreds of others. The recovery committee that was set up to help coordinate repairs just recently disbanded.

One thing Halliday said he learned early on was the state government was ready to help with manpower and equipment for cleanup, but not with financial assistance.

“At the end of the day, when everything’s cleared up and you’re sitting there, there’s a big fat bill you have to pay, too. So, unfortunately, in our situation, we have yet to see any relief from the state or the feds,” Halliday said.

He said the city itself racked up $6 million in bills.

“That’s not a small chunk of change for a community of our size,” he said. “Other than manpower, which the state absolutely did help us with manpower and the cleanup, but as far as any of the debris, dumping at the dumps, and things of that nature, those became large bills.”

Halliday said Coal City got the money it needed by refinancing a storm sewer bond, and approving a recovery bond.

Obtaining federal disaster relief funds can be difficult in Illinois, because the Federal Emergency Management Agency bases its minimum damage threshold on the population of the state, not the individual community affected.

After more than 1,100 homes in the town of Washington were destroyed by an EF-4 tornado in November 2013, FEMA denied assistance to homeowners, saying the damage was not so severe to be beyond the capabilities of the state, local governments, and volunteer agencies. FEMA also denied a similar request for disaster relief funds after 21 counties suffered major flooding from storms in December 2015 and January 2016.

Halliday said the recovery from a tornado is time-consuming.

“The first three weeks from the tornado on, I got about two hours of sleep every day, and that was seven days a week,” he said.

Halliday had his village manager and police chief offer help to officials in Ottawa and Naplate. Coal City also sent a couple public works trucks to assist with cleanup.

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