FEMA team tours Gifford
GIFFORD — A team of federal and state emergency management officials toured Gifford on Thursday afternoon to assess the damage caused by Sunday's tornado.
Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Nate Custer said that information gathered by the team will be used to support a state request for federal disaster assistance to help people affected by the twister.
"We are looking at the extent of the damage, the effect on the people, how many homes were destroyed, how many homes had major damage and whether there has been a previous history of natural disasters here," Custer said.
"A major thing we look at is the level of insurance coverage. Insurance is your best bet in these instances."
Custer said the team plans similar tours to do preliminary damage assessments in Douglas and Vermilion counties by Saturday. Those counties were also affected by Sunday's storms.
Former Gifford Mayor and current Gifford firefighter John Bouse took the five-member team on a walking tour of the destruction on a rainy Thursday afternoon.
The team consisted of team leader Carolyn Robinson-Tucker and Custer from the FEMA, Brad Clearwater and Dale Dixon of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Roger Crump of the Small Business Administration.
They saw residents sorting through the rubble where houses once stood, hauling construction materials out of former crawl spaces, boarding up windows, gathering branches from downed trees and doing other recovery work.
Team members also took the time to interview many of the residents, gathering information about damage to individual buildings and whether they had any insurance coverage.
"They were asking us if our insurance was taken care of and if there was anything more they could do," said Gifford resident Derin Scott.
The home that Scott and his wife Shannon lived in was destroyed by the tornado.
"Our house is going to have to come down. It is structurally not safe anymore," he said.
Scott said the couple has been staying at his grandmother's house in Rantoul.
Lorraine Buenting said she told the assessment team how the tornado destroyed the building housing her business on West Street, Pabco Tax Service.
"We are going to have to move our business to the Hicksgas building here in Gifford," she said.
Custer said the team plans to classify buildings as either destroyed, having major damage or having minor damage.
"We will stay here and walk these neighborhoods and assess the damage as long as it takes," he said."The priority at the beginning is to look at the effect on individuals."
Custer said the data collected on Thursday will be reported to the state.
"It does not mean there is going to be a federal declaration, but it is part of an investigative process that could lead to that," he said.
Custer said it would ultimately be up to President Barack Obama to make a disaster declaration, which would make the area eligible for federal disaster assistance.
He said it was too early to tell how long it might take before a decision is made on making a presidential disaster declaration.
Custer said four additional teams are assessing tornado damage in other areas of Illinois.