Illinois to help with Irene relief

August 28, 2011 5:52:17 PM PDT
The state of Illinois is offering to aid in Tropical Storm Irene relief efforts -- Gov. Pat Quinn is even sending National Guard troops to the East Coast.

More than 1,000 Illinois National Guard soldiers and airmen are reporting to their units to prepare and train for storm relief efforts. Some soldiers have already left, while others are headed to the East Coast Monday.

In addition, some insurance companies are leaving to provide one-on-one help.

On Sunday afternoon, workers put the finishing touches on a State Farm mobile unit. The Chicago-based moving office will go to Pittsburgh first, and then will be dispatched to other cities as needed. It gives people the chance to walk right in a file a claim.

"A lot of people hate having to call an 800 number and talk to someone down in Florida or Texas. So these offices really humanize things for them. They can meet the claim representative face-to-face. They can talk to other customers were going through what they are, " said State Farm Spokeswoman Missy Lundberg.

The mobile unit has been put into action for several big natural disasters, even a recent one here in Chicago.

"When Chicago got the huge hail storm at the beginning of July, we brought in this office, and we used it more for auto claims because a lot of people had damage to their cars," Lundberg said.

Also getting ready are Illinois National Guard soldiers. While the state of New York has not officially asked for help, it has asked the Guard to get prepared.

"What we want to be able to do is make sure we are prepared and can leave at a moment's notice and get out there as quickly as possible," said Col. Mike Zerbonia.

So, the plan is to preposition six Blackhawk helicopters and two Chinooks. The most recent experience for many soldiers going out east are tours of Iraq or Afghanistan -- not natural disasters.

"It's definitely different. I've never been on this type of mission before so there's some pressure just because it's our home country, the United States, that we're supporting, so we want to be ready for this," said Officer Christopher Lopez.

"Yes it is a little bit different from the war fight because in a war fight you're moving combat troops into the mission. But at the same time, to me, it's humanitarianism. You're helping people, you're helping civilization," said Sgt. Jason Jenkins.

Before taking off, soldiers got a send off from Quinn. Despite the fanfare, the mission was suddenly put on hold.

"We really don't know what is going on at this point. We just got an order to hold them in place. We do have some aircraft that has already left, and they will proceed on to New York," said Brad Leighton, Public Affairs Director for the Illinois National Guard. The Guard was held back until New York officials had a better idea of the damage. On Sunday evening, an Illinois National Guard spokesman told ABC7 that the 145 soldiers originally scheduled to leave Sunday will now leave Monday morning. While their exact mission is not known yet, the point is to get in place so they can immediately help.