Des Plaines River crests, still above flood stage

DES PLAINES, Ill. In Des Plaines at Elk Boulevard just up Mannheim from the McDonalds restaurant museum is an area that almost always floods during heavy rains. But longtime residents said that the water is deeper than it has been in the past 20 years or so. And that appears to be the story throughout the northwest suburbs, where it is still too soon to completely assess what is likely to be significant damage.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich designated a seven-county region a state disaster area. That basically amounts to an application by the state for federal disaster aid and, if approved, would mean low-cost loans or grants to individual home owners.

"What happened over the weekend was in many ways historic. Mother Nature yet again reminded us she is in charge. During times like this, when acts of nature challenge us, it becomes very clear to me that you see the best in people during difficult and challenging times," said Blagojevich.

The governor got an aerial tour of the areas flooded by the Des Plaines, Fox and Chicago rivers, which all overflowed their banks over the weekend.

In Cook County alone, an estimated 3,600 people were displaced. The vast majority of them have found temporary housing with relatives or private resources. However, there is a shelter that has been set up at the community center at the Des Plaines Park District. It has about two dozen people in it. It has enough beds that could serve anywhere from 50-100 people.

There was some worry about whether possible federal aid would make it to the Midwest, particularly when there are much more serious weather-related problems in the southwest along the Texas and Gulf Coast.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency said there cannot be an accurate damage estimate until all the floodwaters have receded. So far, public safety officials have given top priority to evacuation and rescue efforts.

"We had a boy swimming in the river this morning. We had to get him out. We had a fellow Sunday that had his two-wheeler bike pumping its way into the river and had to get him out," said Mayor Tony Arredia, Des Plaines.

In Des Plaines, a Red Cross shelter housed and fed about two dozen evacuees unable to find temporary housing on their own. One man was evacuated from his apartment overnight.

"The water came up from the basement. The basement flooded first," said Keith Nevers, Addison evacuee.

"Ninety billion gallons of rain was dumped on the Chicagoland area, 90 billion gallons of rain," Blagojevich said.

"We're all part of the United States. We all have the same number of problems whether I'm in Texas or Katrina or I'm in Des Plaines," said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who added that possible applications from northeast Illinois should be given equal priority with those from Texas.

"I understand that there's going to be a lot of need in the one hurricane after another, but we're part of that and we're going to fight for it," she said.

There was a dramatic rescue Monday from the Des Plaines River where two men jumped into the river to save a boy from drowning. They said the boy was swept in on River Road at about 10 a.m. The two men who jumped into the river after the boy both then had to be rescued by police. Police have not released information about the boy or two men who jumped in to save him.

Residents along the Des Plaines River are waiting to the water to go down. The river crested Sunday night at just over 10 feet in Des Plaines, 5 feet above flood stage.

It's been a very difficult 48 hours in Des Plaines, so residents were glad to see the sun shine Monday. Those who live next to the Des Plaines River expect it to crest once in a while, andwhen the river crested at 10.01 feet late Sunday night, it wasn't a record, but it sure felt like it.

By late Monday morning, the Des Plaines River had receded about 2 feet, but much of Des Plaines is at a standstill, with only three major north-south arteries through the city open -- Mt. Prospect, Elmhurst and Wolf Road. Sandbagging helped many people from being completely inundated.

The city set up about 1,000 beds and shelters, which were about one-third full, many filled with people coming from nearby towns.

Des Plaines Mayor Tony Arrieda addressed the question: Could the situation have been improved had forecasting been better?

"Probably, but I don't know what the difference is when you got 10 feet of water coming over the banks. I don't know how prepared you can be. We would have to build a major wall to stop that water," said Arrieda.

The danger, clearly, is not over. Much of Des Plaines remains flooded. There is a little bit of a current and the wind is pushing the water, so it is very dangerous.

The river is expected to recede below flood stage, which is 5 feet, by Wednesday morning.

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