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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Illinois Tornado Press Briefing

Aired April 21, 2004 - 14:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: the deadly force of nature and the lives that have been taken in Illinois after the families are cleaning up from the wreckage. Here is Governor Rod addressing reporters.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GOV. ROB BLAGOJEVICH, ILLINOIS: ... and State Representative Frank Martino (ph).

And this is a very humbling experience because it reminds all of us that in the final analysis God has a purpose for all things. And this was an act of god. Hopefully we can all find comfort, particularly those who lost loved ones, that there's a purpose for his actions.

And I think there's a great deal to be thankful for and inspired by. And mostly it's the heroic efforts of the people who are here, people from all around this community, from Utica and the surrounding towns and counties.

But also the first responders and firefighters and others who have answered the calls who come from Lincolnwood (ph) and Northbrook (ph) and Stokie (ph) and Chicago. From Payless Hills (ph) and from Oak Lawn. All around this area. It just shows you that human beings are basically good and when others are suffering, people come to the rescue to help their fellow man.

Our prayers are with everyone in this community particularly with those who lost their lives, with their families, with the survivors. And now it's up to us to take inspiration from the heroes who are here.

And I would ask if I could that we all not only take inspiration but act according to what our responsibilities are. And that is to be better to our friends and our neighbors, our families, our loved ones and to serve our community more.

If I could, I'd like to ask for a quick moment of silence for those who have lost their lives and a prayer for those who have lost loved ones.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Governor, will you declare this a disaster area?

BLAGOJEVICH: I am. I'm glad you asked me that. I'm here and I've had a chance to tour the city, to tour this community and this town. And I'm declaring this a disaster area.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has been here from the moment the tornado struck. They are putting together a damage assessment. The Illinois state police have been here. Representatives from the Department of Corrections are here, a variety of other state agencies all working together with the local community and others from other communities far away who have come together to help people.

And the state of Illinois will do everything it has -- we have in our power to be helpful. This is a disaster. I'm declaring it a disaster.

And after the Illinois Emergency Management Agency working in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, can put together the appropriate assessments, we'll then see whether or not this part of Illinois is eligible for federal help.

QUESTION: What does a state disaster mean? What kind of funding can you give them?

BLAGOJEVICH: I'll have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Bill Burke is here. I'm sorry. Bill Burke the director of IEMA is here. And, Bill, thanks for (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WILLIAM BURKE, DIRECTOR, IEAM: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) state disaster declaration, once we do the assessment we're in the position to help fund up to 50 percent of the cost of the recovery here with state dollars. Since it's exigent circumstances we may fund up to 75 percent of the cost of recovery here.

But we do expect, as the governor mentioned, that once we finish the assessment with FEMA, which will start tomorrow morning, that we would probably be able to get some federal assistance.

QUESTION: Any idea so far what that will be? Any early figures?

BURKE: We have no idea whatsoever at the moment. We do have tax figures so we can start to estimate the damage to the homes and the businesses. But I just really couldn't tell you at this moment.

QUESTION: Governor, would you describe what you saw on the ground and from the air -- I presume you came in on chopper. Would you describe it for us, please?

BLAGOJEVICH: It is very obvious from the air the devastation to this town. The entire town has not only been demolished, but the devastation when it comes to the human cost is so much greater than all the property damage that's so apparent not just from the air but also from the ground.

And it is -- as I said, a humbling thing to see. I had this experience last year during the summer when we visited some of the other part of Illinois that were victims of tornadoes. And, you know, its a reminder of how precious life is and how short and uncertain it is. And a reminder that we have to spend it as well as we can. That precious and short period of time that we get on Earth we need to always remind ourselves of our responsibilities to help others.

QUESTION: How many fatalities are there?

BLAGOJEVICH: Four counties. I'm declaring as four counties as disasters. Putnam County, LaSalle County, Kankakee County and Wilco.

QUESTION: How many fatalities?

BLAGOJEVICH: There are four confirmed, but there is fear there may be more.

QUESTION: Do you know how many?

BLAGOJEVICH: Don't know yet.

QUESTION: How people many are still missing, could still be trapped inside?

BLAGOJEVICH: Don't know yet.

QUESTION: Sheriff, are you still holding out hope that (OFF- MIKE)

THOMAS TEMPLETON, LASALLE CO. SHERIFF: Yes, we're always going to hold out that hope until we've uncovered the whole building. So they're still working at that. The rescue effort is still ongoing. And we'll just wait and see.

They're pretty well through it now, but they've got a bit to go yet. So, yes, we're still holding out hope that there's some survivors.

QUESTION: How much longer do you think it will take?

TEMPLETON: We're hoping not much longer. We're hoping before nightfall. We'd like to get it finished before night fall.

QUESTION: Your name and title, Sir?

TEMPLETON: Tom Templeton. Sheriff of LaSalle County.

QUESTION: Sheriff, have you used any listening devices at all to see if there's any discernible activity?

TEMPLETON: Yes.

QUESTION: What has that told you?

TEMPLETON: Nothing so far since about possibly, oh, about three or four hours into it yesterday.

QUESTION: You've concentrated on the tavern up there. Is that the (OFF-MIKE) TEMPLETON: Yes, it was.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) say that there might be four or five trapped in there. Can you confirm that for us?

TEMPLETON: We believe that there's possibly a few other people still left inside. Hopefully again we can find (UNINTELLIGIBLE) survivors. But we're going to have to wait and see.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TEMPLETON: I quite honestly couldn't tell you what the folks that were here. I don't know. Not at this point in time.

(CROSSTALK)

BLAGOJEVICH: You all know about the budget problems. But there's plenty of money in the budget. It is a $35 billion budget. It is all about setting priorities. This is an obvious top priority.

So whatever it takes, we're going to make the investments to help this community and help the people who live here.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BLAGOJEVICH: We don't know yet what this is all going to cost. It is premature to say.

PHILLIPS: Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich live from Utica, Illinois. Side-by-side with Sheriff Tom Templeton. The sheriff talking about rescue crews using listening devices looking to see if there's any sign of life within the rubble there after the tornado devastated that area in Illinois.

The governor saying he's extremely humbled by this experience, but inspired by those that are helping people that have lost their homes and are helping to search for possible survivors.

Declaring it a disaster area now. More rescue crews in to try to find possibly a couple more people that may still be buried beneath the rubble. We'll continue to follow this story.

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