Morris residents flee as floodwaters rise

September 16, 2008 4:14:03 PM PDT
Towns to the southwest of Chicago watched water rise overnight. Flooding damaged homes, businesses and an elementary school in Ottawa. Residents there and in nearby Morris are dealing with the mess caused as the Illinois and Fox rivers spilled over their banks. The water is now receding.

It took a few days for the run off from this weekend's record rainfall to make its way to downstream. Now residents in Ottawa and Morris are dealing with flooding.

That weekend rain brought about 6 to 7 inches of water to the Chicago area. In Ottawa, they got just 4 or 5. But this town sits at the convergence of two rivers, so all that rainwater up north flowed south. Tuesday, it arrived.

The pumps. The people. And a few prayers. All appear to have come together to save Ottawa Township High School from flooding.

School Superintendent John Harrison has been as nervous as a father waiting for the arrival of a newborn as he surveys the rising water from atop one of two 20-foot-tall earthen levees that protect his school. The campus sits at the convergence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers. Both crested Tuesday afternoon, with only a few feet to spare.

"We thought it was going to come over the top of the Fox levee. The community really turned out, faculty, staff, it was just a great outpouring of help from businesses. Helped us put an additional 2 feet on the shorter Fox levee," said Supt. John Harrison, Ottawa High School.

A few blocks downstream water swallowed Central Elementary.

"I've thought about my stuff in the school like my PE t-shirt, I wonder if it's going to be ruined," said Blake Hartman, student.

Central Elementary School students have been out of school for the past two days. But, Wednesday, they'll be going to a couple of other area schools as they return to class. The school's principal says it may take at least a week for them to get everything cleaned up before students are allowed back in the building.

Workers are bringing in additional gas to power pumps that, amazingly, are combining with sandbags to keep most of the school fairly dry.

"We do have some water in some of the areas, but it could've been a lot worse," said Supt. Craig Doster, Ottawa Elementary School.

Upriver in Morris, residents of an apartment complex evacuated by boat overnight are now watching river water slowly recede. Three of the five buildings got wet and more than a few vehicles are a muddy mess.

Morris officials say this is the worse flooding they have seen in 50 years.

"We have been here for a long time and we have never had water in the basement. It is an annoyance but Mother Nature dumped a trillion gallons of water on this area. What are you going to do?" said one area resident.


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