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Twisters ripped through central Illinois around 11 a.m. on Nov. 17, flattening homes and knocking out power.
Republican Rep. Aaron Schock, who lives in nearby Peoria, Ill., heard the news of the destruction from his church pew. He left Sunday services and quickly headed down the road to Washington, Ill., where his constituents were emerging from the basements of their homes to a world in disarray.
Meanwhile, the phones in Schock’s Washington, D.C., office began ringing.
“My executive assistant, my deputy chief of staff and the legislative aide, who’s from the Peoria area, all were in my office on Sunday just working when the phone began ringing,” Schock said in an interview.
“People were calling trying to get in touch with their loved ones because the power was out and there were a lot of senior citizens affected that did not have cellphones. Folks from Seattle to Ohio were calling the office trying to seek our help in putting them in touch with their loved ones who were affected.”
For the staffers employed in Schock’s central Illinois district, the workload was different. On the ground in communities devastated by the tornado, they helped people connect those in need of clothing or food with the Red Cross. They found apartment buildings and hotels for people who needed a roof over their heads.
“The district office really got into the full swing with helping with the day-to-day needs,” Schock said, “and the D.C. office not as much.”
While district staffers frequently find themselves on the front lines when Mother Nature rocks their constituencies, the involvement of staffers here on Capitol Hill varies. In October, for instance, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall declared his D.C. staff essential during the federal government shutdown so they could focus on helping his Colorado constituency with flood recovery. The Illinois tornado provides the latest case study in how natural disasters back home impact Hill life.
Calls to Schock’s Cannon office slowed down after Sunday, so staffers largely returned to their regular schedules, with the exception of twice-daily status updates from the Peoria district director. She phoned in with information on the location of emergency housing and new donation collection points, plus any upcoming fundraisers or telethons. The D.C. staff helped spread the work.
Randy Pollard, downstate director for Sen. Mark S. Kirk’s staff, spent the days following the Sunday tornado living out of his car, as he traversed the disaster zone from Washington to Brookport, Ill. He talked to locals, then briefed legislative staff back in D.C. on recovery efforts, according to Kirk’s office.