* When I read this story yesterday, my heart sank…
The governor did not declare St. Anne and Pembroke Township near Hopkins Park in Kankakee County state disaster areas.
That’s because county officials never made that request, Gov. Pat Quinn said.
“That (the damage) might not rise to the level required to make that designation” said Kankakee County Board Chairman Mike Bossert Monday night. But, Bossert said, county officials are meeting this morning to discuss whether or not to make a formal request.
I’ve written about Hopkins Park and Pembroke Township before. Here’s a little history…
A New York Times article in 2002 noted that Pembroke Township was statistically one of the poorest areas in the entire country. Ninety-eight percent of its schoolchildren were so poor that they qualified for free lunches. While there were several churches and liquor stores in the township, there was no bank, supermarket, barbershop, pharmacy, gas station, or police force. One part-time physician provided medical care two afternoons per week. The article stated there were few paved roads and no buses or trains running through Pembroke.
Oprah Winfrey told an audience that 55% of Pembroke’s residents lived below the poverty level with 44% without running water. Jon Dyson, a local minister, remarked that “third-world conditions” exist here.
It hasn’t changed much since then, despite a big, splashy press conference by Rod Blagojevich in 2003 when he promised to aid the all-black town and surrounding township. What they got was gravel for their sandy roads. The gravel sank almost immediately. They got a little more gravel. It sank, along with the school bus, which has to constantly be towed out of the sand.
George Ryan tried to help by building a prison there. The area has no sewer system, and some folks literally just have holes in the floors of their bathrooms. That would’ve changed with the prison, which needed a sewer system, but Blagojevich stopped the construction and sent gravel instead. Now, the local unemployment rate is 44 percent and the average household income is $14,000.
The state isn’t the only one that has ignored the area. The majority white county has been notorious for neglecting Pembroke Township over the decades. It’s truly shameful.
* CBS2 did a story on the tornadoes this week…
Just down the road, more destruction in Hopkins Park. Jackie Thomas was in her mobile home when, suddenly, the walls caved in and trapped her. Her husband pulled her out of the debris.
She believes warning sirens would have helped. But Hopkins Park doesn’t have one. That’s something some officials in the impoverished community are trying to change. A Kankakee County emergency official said they could have, if they’d applied for a grant to help pay for the siren.
Mayor Samuel Payton says they did, three years ago. The paperwork is at the clerk’s office. But a letter from the state agency that oversees the payout said in a letter that state budget difficulties has made it impossible to give Hopkins Park the money.
The Tribune also had a piece today…
When the storm struck Saturday, many residents were inside their flimsy houses, unaware of the severe weather.
In the aftermath, Kankakee County’s emergency responders rushed into Hopkins Park to pull families from damaged homes, and the local chapter of the Red Cross set up camp inside the mayor’s office at Village Hall.
“It was dark; it was raining; the situation was really messed up,” said Kelly Reffett, executive director of the Red Cross of Kankakee County.
The Red Cross started with the basics, delivering food and clothing to hungry families caught in the downpour. Some received eyeglasses, and others, like the Thomas family, were put up in local motels for a couple of nights until the full extent of the damage could be determined.
“A destroyed home is a major event, no matter what your economic status,” Reffett said. “But in places like St. Anne (Township) and Hopkins Park, life is tough to begin with. To have your home and all your possessions taken from you, it just knocks your world.”
If the county doesn’t get its act together and ask the governor to put that area on the disaster list, then the governor needs to find a way to get them some help.
I grew up not far from there, and to say that those folks are regional outcasts would be the understatement of the year. They get nothing but the shaft, and it’s really time for that to end.
* Photo: Plass Thomas, 76, stands in the rubble of the two mobile homes on his property that were destroyed Saturday night. A tornado lifted one and dropped it on the other where Thomas, his wife and grandson were watching television at 3000S Road in Pembroke Township. Thomas says there was no warning. “The roof came off. One minute it was there, and then it was gone.”
* Pembroke: Lack of sirens left town unsafe during tornadoes
* Pembroke: Woman buried in tornado rubble survived
* Tornadoes leave heavy damage in wake