First reported 08/10/10 1:30 P.M.

Though it’s been three weeks since homeowners in Austin and the West Side experienced severe flooding after torrential rains hit the city, residents are still seeking help – and they’re tired of waiting for it to come.

About 100 people came out to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis’ town hall meeting Monday night at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St. Many voiced frustration about receiving little help since the July 23 rainstorm. Also present were representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Gov. Pat Quinn’s office, and the city’s Department of Health.

On Wednesday, Quinn joined local elected officials at press conferences held on the West Side and western suburbs concerning flood damage assistance. FEMA officials have been in the Chicago area over the last two weeks assessing the most severely damaged areas and properties. They were in some suburban communities last week and are currently touring the West Side.

Residents are still being instructed to accurately document any damage to their homes caused by the flood and take that information to their aldermen’s offices. Flood assessment forms were available through the aldermen and were required to be turned in last week, but officials Monday said residents can still fill out and submit forms with their alderman.

The assessments are needed to secure millions of dollars in estimated federal assistance for communities. Officials Monday stressed that they’re only focusing on the most severely damaged properties. As for when those funds will become available, they gave no specific date. Davis explained that this was a necessary part of the process for President Obama to issue a disaster declaration to release federal flood aid. But before that can occur, FEMA officials first must take an assessment and submit their findings to Gov. Pat Quinn. He will then need to make a formal request to the agency, saying the state is unable to deal with the devastating aftermath of the flood.

“I am confident President Obama will do the right thing, but first we have to get him the information,” said Davis, adding that he, too, experienced basement flooding at his longtime Austin home.

Still, some residents at the town hall said they need help now.

Steven McKinley, of the 1100 block of North Parkside, experienced severe flooding in his basement apartment. He also suffers from asthma and said it has become worse because of mold in his apartment due to water damage. McKinley said he and his wife Bridget can’t remain in their home any longer but are without an alternative place to go. They have lived in the three-flat building for about a year. McKinley wasn’t satisfied with what he heard at Monday’s town hall concerning his health situation – residents were told how to avoid mold in their homes and how to safely remove it.

Making matters worse, McKinley said he called his building’s landlord about fixing some of the damage but claimed nothing has been done. He said the landlord, who lives out of state and has other properties in the Chicago area, also still wants their $725 monthly rent.

“I still have mold in my basement but the landlord told me he doesn’t want me to touch it or fix anything. This has been two weeks ago. Today is the ninth [Monday]. What I would like to have for me and my wife is a place to live,” McKinley said. “I have asthma and I’m breathing this everyday. I came here to find some answers for me and my wife. … I didn’t hear nothing to help me out.”

McKinley also fears he may end up in the hospital because of his worsening asthma. Other residents at the town hall had similar stories to tell. One woman said it’s just herself and her father, who needs medical care, in their storm-damaged home. Another resident, an elder, said her furnace was damaged in the flood, and she’s been unable to air-condition her home. And some wondered why federal officials are just getting to the West Side now when FEMA was in places like Westchester last week assessing damage.

Davis said Westchester and other suburbs have not received any federal money or any kind of special treatment over other communities.

“The only thing they’ve gotten is attention because their mayor has been very vocal,” Davis said.

Many residents said they still have damaged and destroyed items in their homes needing to be discarded. Virgil Crawford of the Westside Health Authority was in attendance and said the organization has volunteers ready to help residents remove items if they call.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

  • Ald. Emma Mitts (37th)
    5344
    W. North Ave.
    773-745-2894

  • Ald. Ed Smith (28th)
    259 N. Pulaski
    773-533-0900

  • Ald. Deborah Graham (29)
    5755 W. Division
    773-261-4646

  • Comm. Earlene Collins (1st)
    5943 W. Madison
    773-626-2184

  • South Austin Coalition Community Council
    5660 W. Madison
    773-287-4570

  • Westside Health Authority
    773-622-8477