WASHINGTON, Illinois — U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk on Tuesday toured tornado damage in the central Illinois city of Washington, saying it's his job to make sure federal funds are available to help recovery efforts.
The tour came as President Barack Obama acted on Gov. Pat Quinn's request to declare 15 Illinois counties major disaster areas.
Kirk, who had a stroke nearly two years ago, walked during parts of the tour. He later said photographs do not do justice to the storm damage. The tornado was a half mile wide when it struck Washington and destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 homes.
"We've got to make sure the FEMA accounts all have enough money, and that's my job when I get back to Washington," Kirk said. "We've got to make sure there is no partisan rancor that causes government shutdown."
Obama's action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Champaign, Douglas, Fayette, Grundy, Jasper, La Salle, Massac, Pope, Tazewell, Vermilion, Wabash, Washington, Wayne, Will and Woodford counties.
Federal assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the disaster.
Washington Mayor Gary Manier told WJBC-AM he doesn't want to celebrate a one-year anniversary of the tornado. He said he wants to celebrate "what we accomplished in that year."
"You're going to see (a) construction event yet this week" he said. "And if I see a house framed, I think that's going to send a message to our residents: We are going to rebuild, and we're not going to let this thing kick us in the teeth anymore."
Other towns in the region also suffered extensive damage.
In Gifford, which has about 1,000 residents, the village hall has been condemned. Officials say a boil order will likely remain place for months. However, elementary school children returned to classrooms this week for the first time since the twisters.