Downpour causes headaches for city and suburbs

July 24, 2010 8:54:45 PM PDT
Residents and crews all across the Chicago area were dealing with massive flooding over the weekend.Some expressways were closed Saturday, and some residents had to be rescued from neighborhoods covered in water. However, Illinois State Police say all expressways throughout the area have reopened.

However, a fireworks display scheduled for Saturday night at Navy Pier was canceled because of the recent storms. A spokesperson tells ABC7 that a barge was unable to get into position because locks were closed due to heavy rains Saturday morning, thereby canceling the show which had been set for 10:15 p.m.

Parts of the Chicagoland area received more than seven inches of rain overnight.

The National Weather Service has received numerous reports of flooded streets, as well as reports of basement flooding. Motorists are urged not to try to drive across flooded roads. Additionally, the weather service says, because of the hazard of electric shock from flood water covering electrical appliances or outlets, homeowners are advised not to go into flooded basements.

Some of the worst flooding in the Chicago area was in suburban Westchester, where, according to one fire official, the water in some places was 10 ft. deep.

ABC7 is told many Westchester residents have been displaced, as a result of the storms. Some of them were picked up by relatives at the area's fire department.

As of Saturday evening, six people reportedly were in need of shelter in Westchester, including a mother of three children and an elderly couple.

"It came down in buckets in this community and flooded just about every street," said Sam Pulia, Westchester Village president.

At least 30 people had to be rescued by emergency responders in Westchester Saturday. They were trapped in vehicles or unable to get past the front doors of their homes.

Crews also went in search of those who might need help.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter Saturday to accommodate displaced Westchester, Hillside and Addison residents. The shelter is at the Leyden Township Center, 2620 Mannheim Road in Franklin Park. Dozens of people were at the shelter Saturday night.

Because clean-up was not yet priority for the Westchester community, many residents were left to deal with the mess by themselves.

"All the towns around us got rain. Why did we get so much? It's not just rain. It's not just as a result of the rain. There's a bigger problem here in Westchester," flood victim Nora Griffin said.

"It is the worst it has ever been. We have that floods many times, but now, things are floating around," said Westchester resident Reginald Clark, whose basement flooded.

"TV, refrigerator, washer, dryer, our storage, Christmas tree, everything," Jean Meza said, speaking of the items that were ruined in her flooded basement.

In addition to Westchester, several other western suburbs were severely impacted. In fact, all of Cook County could be declared a disaster area.

In Bellwood, strip malls along Mannheim Road became parking lots for the stranded. Water was everywhere.

"I was pretty stupid, started driving and ended up a lake. I got out and pushed it myself. That's when I lost my shoes. My car, I don't know where it is," stranded motorist Yves-Pierre Morris.

"I sat in the car for three hours," Doris Siemen said. "By the time the police department fished me out, it was almost to the door handles."

Things got so bad that Washington Boulevard was turned into a virtual river with cars floating everywhere.

"There were cars with water up to the roof. I was up to my neck. We were pulling cars out of the water all night long, and we will continue helping all day long," said Matthew Simmons of AMJ Towing.

"When the water started shooting the gutter, it was like somebody struck oil," said Stephen Milton.

Unfortunately, the gusher that flowed into the Milton family basement was a mixture of rainwater and raw sewage.

"I tried to stop it. It didn't work. So, I grabbed things I need, but I couldn't grab them quick enough. Water just rose up, and deep freezer floated away in the water," Milton said.

In neighboring Maywood, sandbags did not stand between water and the police department. Officers released several people under arrest when their holding cell began to fill-up with water.

If you got a ticket in Maywood last year, Mother Nature may have given you a reprieve. Flood waters damaged stacks of ticket records.

"Hopefully, they paid them. If not, it's going to be pretty difficult to track them down," Maywood Police Sgt. Corey Cooper said.

Seven inches of fast falling rain, challenges even the most modern sewer systems, but in some towns, aging infrastructure also played a role in the flooding.

"We know we got problems with some of our sewers, to some degree, and we continue to work on those," said Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough, Sr.

Dive teams from area fire departments continued Saturday evening to look around Westchester area, checking to make sure all families that decided to stay were doing ok.

Thousands of people have been affected by the storm, but it is imperative officials get an accurate assessment of the damage so the communities can get the help they need as quickly as possible. The county needs to prove that they have at least $17 million in damages to be considered a disaster area. It seemed that amount had been met in Westchester. However, it could be another day or two before an official pronouncement is made.

Flooding also caused dozens of residents of a nursing facility in Hillside to be evacuated from their homes by boat.

ABC7 is told 59 people were brought to higher ground in a nearby warehouse after the rain caused a reservoir to overflow and flood the Oak Ridge Convalescent Center.

The facility had flooded with approximately six inches of water, according to Hillside's fire chief.

Residents were being moved to other care centers in the area temporarily.

The overnight storms also left flooding in several communities along the Des Plaines River, west of the city of Chicago.

In Brookfield, water spilled over the riverbanks near the confluence of Salt Creek and the Des Plaines, leaving streets under several feet of standing water.

Upstream in Riverside, floodwaters are covering part of a golf course and left a baseball field inundated.

City grapples with flooding,

The Water Reclamation District in Chicago had to open the locks at Wilmette and on the Chicago River Saturday due to heavy storms.

As a result, swimming in Lake Michigan was banned Saturday. The ban was precautionary. The park district generally closes the beaches out of concern for water quality any time sewer water is released into the lake.

The flooding also created big problems for the rest of the city as many residents struggled with flooded basements and viaducts.

Flood waters were flowing out of Jose Zaragoza's basement as he and other homeowners began to clean up from the overnight storms.

"Around 3:30 this morning, my daughter woke me up and said water was getting in on the first floor," Zaragoza told ABC7.

Waterlogged backyards remained as evidence the thunderstorms spared almost no one when they rolled through Chicagoland, hitting the city's Southwest Side especially hard hit.

"It was like something out of a movie, or something you see somewhere else where the river crests and it floods. But I've never seen this in the city," said resident Preston Medrano.

Extra city water department crews were dispatched to clear clogged sewers. Meanwhile, those still frustrated from the last rainstorm struggled to salvage what could be saved.

"Once the sewer department came down the street, amazingly the water went away. Is it an act of God or a sewer problem? I don't know," said resident Tom Detrado.

"We did a lot more cleaning and catch basin cleaning in response to that storm. So, we were ready for this, to the degree that we could be ready for it," said Commissioner Tom Powers of the Chicago Dept. of Water Management. "But, as you've heard the president of the Metropolitan Sanitary District say, seven and a half inches of rain is an unbelievable amount of rain."

Saturday afternoon, some Chicago residents had trouble navigating through the flood waters near Quality Auto Mart. The car dealer's owner says his business has been dampened by the severe weather.

"On an average Saturday, I probably have 20 to 30 customers. Today, I've seen about two people walk in here so far today. So, you could look at it like I've lost about 90 percent of my business today," Anthony Kessel said.

Midway Airport reported the highest total of rainfall at 7.51 inches, National Weather Service Stephen Rodriguez said.

The heavy rain also shook up the Cook County jail and criminal courts building Saturday.

Water was found under the criminal courts building in an area known as "the bridge," which is where detainees wait for their bond hearings, according to a release from the Cook County Sheriff's office. Bond hearings for Saturday and likely Sunday were moved to a different location near Harrison and Kedzie.

Water also got to the tunnel system, which runs under the entire jail campus and is used to transport inmates. Some of the tunnels are still usable, the release said.

The Division 10 maximum security jail was not allowing visits Saturday because there was flooding at the base of the elevator shafts used to access the visiting cages, the release said.

Next door, Cermak Hospital -- used for routine visits or check ups for detainees -- also experience some flooding and was only being used for emergency care, the release said.

Power was also out but has since been restored at the Division 9 maximum security jail and the criminal courts building, the release said.

In the South Loop, flooding forced approximately 1,500 residents of a building to evacuate from their apartments. The Chicago River overflowed, sending 8 to 10 ft. of water into the underground parking garage at River City Condominiums.

About 100 cars are parked inside the garage. Diesel fumes and gasoline from the cars mixed in the floodwater with chlorine from a pool in the building, which made a brew toxic enough to cause a hazardous materials team to be called to the scene.

No one was hurt.

However, residents may have to stay out of the building for 12 or more hours while crews pump the water out.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has canceled all events for the day due to weather, according to a release.

(The Associated Press and the Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.)


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