GIFFORD — The Champaign County Emergency Management Agency is beginning to phase out its operations in the small, disaster-stricken town as residents continue the cleanup on their own.
Local EMA spokesman Rick Atterberry said all the proper procedures are in place to ensure that the recovery continues smoothly, but the initial response phase is winding down.
"The recovery is well underway, and the basic function of the Emergency Management Agency is in the response phase," Atterberry said. "So we've moved to the recovery phase where you start to turn it over to the city at this point."
The police presence will remain, Atterberry said. That is to keep residents and property safe and to discourage sightseers through the weekend.
St. Paul Lutheran Church at Main and Church streets in Gifford will serve as the long-term resource center for volunteer check-in; distribution of food, clothes and toiletries; a first-aid station; and a site for breakfast and lunch. Volunteers are asked to enter Gifford from the south and park at the church or nearby grade school.
"That'll be a long-term operation there," Atterberry said.
Public debris removal will be halted during the weekend. Private hauling of debris may continue, but contractors will need to dispose of the waste in the appropriate landfills. No open burning is permitted.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District will continue to provide its special food waste disposal bin at Hicksgas at the corner of Main Street and Route 136 to ward off rodents and other food-related problems.
Gifford United Methodist Church is planning a free Thanksgiving meal. Those planning to attend are asked to call the church in advance.
If Gifford is declared a FEMA disaster area, then the federal agency would set up a long-term resource tent, too. That would essentially be a "one-stop shop" for FEMA and Small Business Administration representatives, Atterberry said, but it will not happen until the town gets the official word from the federal government.
Atterberry expects Gifford will still need resources from outside agencies to help into the future, but coordination through EMA will end soon as the town moves into the recovery phase.
The way the town looks has already begun to change since earlier this week as residents make significant progress in clearing the debris.
"It's starting to look kind of barren in spots," Atterberry said. "I think that's when it may hit some of the people."
There were areas of town where spaces were still occupied by something, even if it was a pile of debris where a house had stood, Atterberry said. But a lot of the residents have now cleared their properties down to the floorboards.
By the time they are done, there will not be much left in the blocks that were hit particularly hard.
"I think when it's really going to hit people when part of the area that was hit hardest is going to look barren," Atterberry said.