Rauner joins state, local leaders in pledging aid to tornado-ravaged LaSalle County
In the wake of severe tornadoes that recently hurtled through LaSalle County, Gov. Bruce Rauner and other state and local officials toured the region to inspect the damage and teld gathered constituents about the recovery progress.
Rauner, who was joined by Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director James Joseph, state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), Naplate Mayor Jim Rick and state Rep. Jerry Long (R-Streator), spoke first regarding casualties, with an emphasis on the relatively low number of injuries and fatalities.
“It looks like 64 homes have been pretty much destroyed,” Rauner said in an audio document of the assessment, calling the event a tragedy. He said that five nursing-home residents were injured, although not critically; and a 76-year-old man was killed by a falling tree in South Ottawa. One other death was reported in southern Illinois, according to authorities.
“We’ve got to count our blessings; this could have been worse,” Rauner said. “The warning systems worked well, people were notified and it’s wonderful the way the residents and community helped each other.”
Rauner said the entourage was visiting impacted families, and he praised the high level of community cooperation.
Rauner also issued a special thank-you to first responders – police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel – who did what he called an outstanding job.
Following the tornadoes, the Red Cross and Salvation Army established shelters for families in need, with food and shelter made readily available. Authorities called volunteer efforts wonderful and urged insurance agencies to respond as quickly as possible to address homeowners’ needs in damage assessment.
“We’re going to do everything we can from the state to help out (local residents) recover quickly,” Rauner said.
James Joseph, of the IEMA. echoed the governor’s sentiments, expressing gratitude that the outcome was less severe than it could have been and commending personnel for their dedication.
“Whenever we have a severe event … sometimes we get to stop and look,” Joseph said, referring to how much first responder training matters. He cited reports of up to 16 separate tornadoes in one evening throughout the state of Illinois.
“The first responders were paramount to ensuring life safety,” Joseph said, underscoring the agency’s focus on response and recovery. He lauded the outstanding quality of local diligence at the community level, mentioning how operators of one local restaurant, the Village Grill, directed customers into the facility’s basement before police and fire personnel arrived.
State agencies are on call to relieve residents with debris removal and other cleanup, Joseph said, cautioning constituents that weather would remain rainy and likely cold as they regroup from the event.
Sen. Rezin thanked Rauner’s office and IEMA for their swift response to the emergency, noting that “First responders on the ground … make us proud every day for what they do.”
She advised residents to be careful before attempting to navigate through impacted areas of LaSalle County, warning that safety procedures were in place in both Ottawa and Naplate. Rezin acknowledged the individual desire to volunteer and encouraged residents of the small, close-knit Naplate community to reach out for needed services.
Rick, Naplate's mayor, said progress was being made but much work remained. “We really got hit hard,” he said, thanking people from the surrounding area who helped by supplying food, water and other services.
Rep. Long spoke about the swift response of Naplate officials immediately following the tornado. “I’m amazed at the first responders,” he said, reminding residents to contact his office or Sen. Rezin’s office with any administrative issues tied to insurance coverage. He also thanked the governor for touring the area.
“Naplate’s been devastated,” Rauner said. “So many homes have been completely lost. We just have to give … thanks that things weren’t worse.”
As officials fielded questions from individuals about specific infrastructure matters, including some commercial buildings, Mayor Rick reported that the local fire chief performed an assessment. He also referred to the city’s unique strength. “We’re just a bunch of common, hard-working people and we like our community. We like where we’re at,” Rick said.
When an audience member commented on how emotional the event must be for Naplate, the mayor acknowledged strong feelings.
“To see the streets the way they looked this morning versus the way they looked yesterday morning, yeah. It’s … it’s emotional,” Rick said.
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