Flood waters receding in central Illinois

Homes evacuated, schools closed in flooded areas
January 11, 2008 9:16:05 AM PST
Water is starting to recede in the central Illinois town of Watseka, offering hope to hundreds of evacuated residents.

Flooding along the Iroqouis River and a nearby creek forced the residents to evacuate earlier this week. Many spent the night at a Red Cross emergency shelter.

The floodwaters forced the evacuation of more than 400 homes in several counties south of Chicago. Rain and melting snow sent the river surging nearly eight feet above flood stage. The water came up so quickly that police and firefighters had to help get many residents to higher ground.

But residents received some good news Thursday when the river levels were starting to fall. Governor Rod Blagojevich declared Livingston and Iroquois counties disaster areas.

This is the worst flooding in 50 years in several communities. Watseka,with 6,000 residents and 90 miles south of Chicago, was one of the worst hit.

It rained on and off all Thursday afternoon. And on top of that, the National Weather Service says that floodwaters there were probably not going to recede until Monday.

On Oak Street, one of several flooded streets in Watseka, a Chevy suburban submerged. It's a common sight in this small Illinois town where boat is the only way to get around. One family borrowed a canoe to travel back to their home.

"I learned how to canoe in junior high but haven't done it in quite some time. So I guess we'll see how it goes," said Nicole Snyder.

"We'll go inside and get some food and try to salvage whatever we can out of it," said Sam Snyder.

Salvaging what they can is how many residents spent their day. Firefighters went door to door to either rescue people from their flooded homes or make sure those who are staying were OK.

"The highest depth we have seen has been close to six feet. We've had guys six-and-a-half feet tall and have to go through neck-deep water with dry suits on," said Lt. Michael Thompson, Chebanse Township Fire Dept..

It was Wednesday morning when the problems began. There are two bodies of water, a creek and the Iroquois River that are responsible for the worst flooding in Walseka's history.

"We've been evacuating people for two days from their homes. And we evacuated over 500, approaching 600. And that's around 250 residents," said Mayor John Weidert, Watseka.

Over 100 people spent the night at Trinity Church. The Red Cross is operating a shelter as well.

"We're providing meals. We're transporting to the local high school for showers and feeding people and taking care of them the best we can," said Chris Lentz, Trinity Church.

"I'm thankful for this place and wouldn't have a place to go," said victim Dustin Sondgerath.

Many were hoping to get back into their homes this weekend. The mayor is getting some state help with state resources and money. Now he said he's just hoping that the federal government will step in.

There was a similar situation in some areas of northern Indiana, where the floodwaters were expected to start to recede. Three people, including two children, died in the flooding there. Hundreds of homes were damaged, mostly in the largely rural counties that are between South Bend and going down near Lafayette.

Several homes and roads were still under water in Carroll County, where the Tippecanoe River runs along much of the western border of that county. The National Weather Service says it could take until Saturday for that river to subside back within its banks.