Some warned to evacuate ahead of rising river

December 27, 2008 8:42:41 PM PST
This weekend's unusual winter weather is turning into flooding fears for some living along area rivers. Water levels are steadily rising, all from the rapid snowmelt and heavy downpours. Some residents are being encouraged to evacuate before the situation gets worse. All rivers in the Chicago area are near or above flood levels. That includes the Des Plaines River. There is big concern along many communities

ABC7's Dan Ponce reports the Des Plaines River in Riverside appeared to rise about 4 to 5 inches between 9 and 10 p.m. Saturday. The fear is that the river will spill out into the neighborhood, and then there's a possibility that some of that floodwater could freeze over. That's why officials asked residents to leave voluntarily-- it is not a mandatory evacuation. But, officials say, by late Sunday evening more than 150 homes could be flooded.

The rain continued to pound the Des Plaines River Saturday night -- and, on the banks, snow continued to melt. It's a one-two punch for residents in the area, many of whom have already started sandbagging and pumping water out of their basements. Throughout the evening, neighbors walked up to the river, trying to decide if they should evacuate.

"Tonight we're kinda holding our own, but you just don't know how high it's going to get... We're just hoping it doesn't get too far up, but God only knows," said Claudia and Ladd Kulhanek, Des Plaines residents.

John Havlicek is still refinishing parts of his home after the last flood, which damaged more than 150 homes in Riverside. He said he's not sure if he will evacuate.

Residents are hoping that sandbagging Saturday night will keep the water out Sunday. No one wants to see a repeat of last September's flood.

"During that period of time, just the individual assessments, basically, the personal loss and business loss to Cook County residents was over $64 million. We're certainly hoping that that's not the case here, but we're all preparing for it," said Dan Coughlin, Cook Co. Emergency Management.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger joined local and county emergency officials Saturday night in Riverside. They're concerned that the river will not only flood the neighborhoods, the floodwater could also freeze over, creating an even bigger and more dangerous mess.

Officials are asking residents to move their belongings to higher ground and prepare for the worst.

"We're also asking for a voluntary evacuation...we're asking them to go to relative's house or friend's house for the evening until this situation subsides," said Dep. Chief Matt Buckley, Riverside Fire/Rescue.

At 10 p.m,. the Des Plaines River was just above flood stage, which is 7 feet. Officials say it's expected to rise to 9.7 feet Sunday and could crest early Monday.

Red Cross is expecting 150 families to evacuate. The Red Cross has set up a shelter in Leyden Township. The address of the shelter is: 2620 N. Mannheim Road. The Red Cross says it will be open indefinitely.

People further north in Des Plaines were also on edge Saturday night, taking preventative measures to save their homes from flooding. They sandbagged all day to keep water from the Des Plaines River away in the event it spills over its banks. The northwest suburb saw serious floods in September, and people there are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping to avoid a repeat.

Near the Kankakee River in Coal City many homes are surrounded by icy water. Yards and some streets look more like lakes as the river rises and overflows. Work crews have been out trying to clear storm sewer drains, but low lying areas are likely to see flooding. Along the river, large chunks of ice are breaking apart and washing up.

In west suburban Wheaton the main street is simply swamped. Residents tell ABC7 the flooding is a result of all the melting snow and the storm sewers backing up. The water is about a foot high and is just pouring out into people's basements and garages.

Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood flooded in September, but so far there haven't been any reports of problems in the area. City crews were in the neighborhood Saturday filling sandbags and piling them along the Chicago River.

A spokesperson for the city's Department of Water Management said Saturday night that river levels in the area were rising about 1-to-2 inches per hour. But the Chicago River is still 4.5 feet from cresting.

One long-time Albany Park resident said he is dealing with a family crisis but felt he had to come out and help Saturday.

"When I woke up this morning and I saw that all of the snow was gone, I decided I've got to come back here," said Mauro Baiardo, neighborhood resident.

"When we just moved in it was flooding already but it didn't get too high, so I wasn't really concerned, but now by seeing this...I'm really concerned about it," said Alex Esquivel, neighborhood resident.

While the sandbagging is done for now, crews will work through the night monitoring potential problems.

The city had 300 Water Department employees out Saturday cleaning up catch basins. Catch basins are the grates in the street that allow water to drain into the sewer. Keeping them clean will help prevent flooding. The City Water Commissioner said Saturday that he is concerned about freezing. His goal is to get as much water out of the streets before the temperature drops again.

ComEd crews set out Saturday night to restore power to thousands of customers. One of the affected areas: a high-rise building in the 4800-block of South Lake Park Avenue. Residents say the power went out Saturday morning. ComEd said the outage was caused by flooding at a nearby substation.

ComEd officials said more than 2,700 customers were still in the dark as of late Saturday evening. That was down from nearly 9,000 at 5 p.m. Seventeen-hundred of those are in the city, 275 are in the north suburbs and 725 are in the south suburbs.


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