Swollen rivers bring repeat flooding to Kankakee County

Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Kankakee River swells and causes flooding
A wet summer and recent heavy rains have left the Kankakee River swollen and communities in Kankakee County fighting flooding.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A wet summer and recent heavy rains have left the Kankakee River swollen and communities in Kankakee County fighting flooding.

In Otto Township, Riverview Drive is a sight that some resident s find hard to stomach.

"It's taken a toll on everybody, you know, with the parking, relocation, everything, packing up," says Brad Burns.

Mike Ponton has three and a half feet of water in his home, and says he feels like he's fighting a losing battle.

"This is something you really can't fight because you can't fight Mother Nature," Ponton says. "She's going to do what she's going to do. And I've had several people say, 'You need to put sand bags up around here.' Sand bags ain't going to stop the water from coming. It's going to come."

The Kankakee and Iroquois rivers, both swollen with rainwater, have converged to create conditions many haven't seen in decades.

"We're literally in the middle of the river," says Judy Francoeur, who has three sump pumps battling water in her crawl space. She keeps her medicine close. "I don't know if I'll be able to get back in the house, so just keep everything with ya."

Ponton says this is the third time in three weeks water has inundated his home, and he'd like federal officials to study the problem.

"We're getting it because the river needs to be dredged, needs to be dredged for years, but it's not being done. And the corps of engineers isn't doing anything to alleviate this problem," he says.


Several parts of Watseka, a city about 90 miles south of Chicago, are underwater after severe storms rolled through the area. Watseka is located along the Iroquois River, which is seven feet above flood stage and still rising.

Fire department officials said dozens of families have evacuated on the north and west sides of Watseka, and 50 people are now at a Red Cross shelter. Officials say 60 square blocks of residential area are affected by high water.

"The Sugar Creek and the Iroquois River have a confluence on the west side of town, where they join and they flow north into the Kankakee River," says Watseka mayor Bob Hardwood. "We can't get rid of the water once it gets here."

Access to Watseka is being restricted to the east and south. A daily curfew is now in place from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m.


Stanley Dresser typically loves the view of the Kankakee River from his back door in Aroma Park, Ill., but after the heavy rains he's anxiously watching the rising water.

"Now with the ground so saturated, it's got nowhere to go," he says. "Just nowhere to go."

Next door, Steve Bisaillon estimates the flood has cost him about $10,000 - $20,000 worth of damage so far, and experts predict the river level is will rise several more feet within the next day. The best way to get around at the moment would be by boat, but they're banned from the right now because officials say they're too dangerous.

Officials say as many as 400 homes and businesses are impacted by the flooding, and at least 100 homes are in the water right now. In many cases, they say, the homeowners have been able to assess the damage. Streets are impassable and closed, and some homes are completely surrounded by water.

"We talked to a lot of residents who have been around for a long time in this area and they don't recall it ever being this high and we have people that worked in my emergency management who haven't seen it this high and they've been here for over 20 years," said Lt. Chad Gessner, Kankakee County Emergency Management.

The river is currently about four feet above flood stage, and officials expect to crest at 25 feet on Wednesday.

PHOTOS: Chicago area storm photos


In far southwest suburban Marseilles, residents are cleaning up after baseball-sized hail left pock-marks in cars and pummeled a greenhouse.

"It's damaged all over from front to back. Front windshield is cracked," said Gary Nolan, whose truck was pummeled by the hail storm as it rolled through Marseilles Monday night. He's at the only body shop in town to get an estimate.

"I got here at 6 o'clock this morning and the phones haven't stopped. I probably have 70 or 80 cars already," said Brad Oaks, Fairway Body Shop.

Shattered windshields and pockmarked vehicles represent the brunt of the damage in Marseilles. Many of the homes have minor siding and roof damage, but that's about it.

"We got a bunch of shingles knocked out and the trees got beat up, but that was about it. The window we can handle," said homeowner Kelly Thomas.

The baseball-sized hail did take out Ganz Greenhouse, which is now totally out of commission until the glass can be replaced. Cell phone video was taken by the chief of police as he storm chased through the area.

"We had a report of a funnel cloud south of the river. We were headed in that direction and that's when the hail took out my windshield. It was deafening," said Chief Jim Hovious, Marseilles Police Dept.

Several trees were knocked down in south suburban Kankakee. Some of those trees fell on cars. One large three blocked an entire street. There are no reports of injuries.


Hundreds of flights were canceled at O'Hare Airport due to stormy weather in Chicago. As a result, many travelers were forced to spend the night at the airport.

Many people slept on the floor or in chairs. One person camped out in a doorway vestibule in Terminal 3. Others were bleary-eyed Tuesday morning because they couldn't get any sleep.

"I can't use profanity, but it's been harsh. It wasn't as usual. Usually they give you a hotel or something. Me and my brother, we can't really sleep like that. So we've just been up," Trey Person said.

Flights that did lift off reported delays of about 30 minutes.