Flood victims still await rescue: Who will help our neighbors?

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116543432530434.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘“I’ve called the City for years to repair the storm sewers on the other corners,” charged Reva Goettsch, who lives on Keith Creek. “We signed an authorization around five years ago for the City to come on to our property and repair the break. We never saw anyone. The creek has not been cleaned in at least 10 years.”’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11654343651866.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘“If you haven’t walked in our shoes, you really don’t know what we’re going through,” said Brenda Arnold, whose motorized wheelchair was destroyed in the flood. “It could happen to you.” Brenda Arnold’s family is paying the mortgage on a house they can’t live in, plus pay rent to live elsewhere. Arnold and her husband are both disabled.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116544309320628.jpg’, ‘Photo composite by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘“I live at a shelter. I am still homeless. I can’t even go home,” cried Tonya Knight, mother of four, who purchased her first home in July. “There is no Christmas for my children. I work six days a week right now. Every penny I have is trying to fix this house that was my dream. Please help my children go home. Yes, I had flood insurance. Have I seen a penny of it? No.” Knight then asked the panel, “Do you know what it feels like to leave your house in a boat?”’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-1165434249880.jpg’, ‘Photo composite by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region V Director Edward Buikema, and FEMA Director of Recovery Jack D’Araujo Jr., face off with Mayor Larry Morrissey and U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo.’);

On the evening of Nov. 28, hundreds filed into the Lincoln Middle School auditorium for a public hearing on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response to Rockford’s Sept. 4 flood.

U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Egan), along with Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I), hosted a panel featuring FEMA Director of Recovery Jack D’Araujo Jr., FEMA Region V Director Edward Buikema and Dave Smith, Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) Chief of Planning.

After a short video about the Labor Day flood, both sides read from prepared statements, each stating why the other should be helping the victims of the flood.

Nestled between numerous impressively-printed charts and graphs, the panel was unable to bring comfort to the hundreds of victims who waited for answers.

During the course of the three-and-a-half-hour hearing, dozens of citizens made their way to the podium so their heart-wrenching stories could be heard. Testimonies continued long after the television stations had gotten their sound-bites and left for the evening.

“You couldn’t find more humble people in your life—honest, hard-working people of very modest means,” Manzullo told The Rock River Times. “If FEMA isn’t for them, then for whom is it?”

FEMA’s position was that our state and local governments have the means to deal with a flood of this magnitude. Manzullo and Morrissey argued no such resources exist.

Many of the affected families remain without a working furnace or electricity this holiday season. Many cannot return to their homes at all. Many have been failed by their insurance companies. Their government has failed all of them.

In the past month, the City and County have pledged at least $20 million for MetroCentre renovations, on quite short notice. The Mayor is asking FEMA for $5.5 million in disaster assistance.

Three months after the Labor Day flood ravaged parts of Rockford, debate continues about whose responsibility the plight of the victims is.

Manzullo angrily fired questions at FEMA, soliciting much applause from the audience. However, on talk radio the next day, questions about grandstanding arose.

Rhetoric aside, one simple fact remained: Once the hearing had ended, our neighbors still needed help, and they weren’t getting it.

FEMA is considering an appeal to its previous denial of disaster relief for Rockford. Manzullo and Morrissey hope the recorded testimonies of flood victims will be considered as part of that appeal process.

D’Araujo, however, said the numbers had already been documented. It appears the pleas of those affected by the flood fell on deaf ears Nov. 28.

The Rock River Times is proud to present some of those faces and voices behind the numbers, in their own words.

Rockford’s Labor Day flood victims are still waiting to be rescued. Who will help our neighbors if not us?

From the Dec. 6 – Dec. 12, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!