ALBANY PARK — As residents of Albany Park continue to clean up and repair their homes after recent flooding, Gov. Pat Quinn paid a visit to the beleaguered neighborhood to announce the launch of flood damage assessments, which the state will use to request federal assistance.
"We are together as a family in Illinois and our family was hit hard by flood," said Quinn, speaking along the banks of the Chicago River at Eugene Field Park. "Our duty now is to really assess the damage."
Five teams — consisting of staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and local officials — are visiting homes to take an accounting of the hardest hit areas.
The goal is to obtain an estimate of how significant the damage was to homes and businesses and then submit a report to the federal government in a bid to receive a federal disaster declaration, according to Jonathon Monken, IEMA director.
Dan Shulman of FEMA's regional office emphasized that the assessments are only intended to take a sampling of affected homeowners.
"We don't have to knock on every door," he said, acknowledging that many residents are at work during the day.
Those homeowners skeptical of scam artists should be aware that FEMA, IEMA and SBA employees all carry IDs that they will be readily displayed, he said. Residents also are under no obligation to let assessment teams into their home — they can provide information from their front porch if they so desire.
"It's purely voluntary," Shulman said.
The maximum amount an individual could receive for uninsured losses is $31,900, in the form of a federal grant that doesn't need to be repaid, Monken said. Low-interest disaster relief loans may also be available.
He encouraged homeowners to contact their alderman's office or the city's 311 help line to report any damage due to flooding.
That advice provided small comfort to Ernesto Elias, a homeowner in the 5000 block of North Monticello Avenue.
"I called 911, I called 311, I called [Ald.] Margaret [Laurino (39th)]. Nobody came," said Elias, who recalled pumping water out of his home at 3 a.m. the morning of the flood.
In attending Quinn's news conference, Elias grabbed the attention of FEMA and IEMA personnel, whom he walked over to his home, just yards from the media hordes.
Elias' son, daughter-in-law and 3-month-old granddaughter were living in the basement apartment of the house when it flooded, he said. He pointed to the still-visible water line that nearly reached to the ceiling.
Drywall and insulation had been ripped out and piled in the center of what used to be a bedroom. The furnace still wasn't functioning.
"You're angry inside," he said. Laurino "was supposed to send sand bags on Wednesday. They were there on Thursday at noon. Thursday was too late."
In response to a query from DNAinfo.com/Chicago regarding the timing of the placement of sandbags, Melissa Stratton, spokeswoman for Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, replied via email: "The Department [of Water Management] worked to control flooding along the Chicago River in the Albany Park neighborhood by placing more than 40,000 sandbags and Jersey barriers."
Elias suffered similar damage after flooding in 2008. The home belonging to his immediate neighbor to the north was demolished in the wake of that disaster, which Elias said he was told was a 20-year occurrence.
"It's scary to live here now," he said.
With water levels rising in the Mississippi River, Quinn warned that Illinois could experience a second round of flooding.
A proposed tunnel to handle overflow from the Chicago River in Albany Park is still in the design phase, leaving residents like Elias worried that he might be bailing out his basement again sooner rather than later.
"I'm nervous about it, yes, of course," he said.
Asked how the city would refine its flood plan for Albany Park in the future, Stratton said, "As we do with every event, we will assess the response provided to ensure that we are maximizing our resources on behalf of the residents and communities we serve."
Was Elias confident the city would act faster the next time around?
"They're never ready," he said.