Des Plaines River still rising; Rauner issues disaster proclamation

Saturday, July 15, 2017
Des Plaines River rising in Gurnee
McClure Avenue in Gurnee is an eerily-lonely place on Friday evening.

GURNEE, Ill. (WLS) -- The water continues to rise in parts of north suburban Gurnee. The Des Plaines River still has not reached its crest. On Friday afternoon, Governor Bruce Rauner issued a disaster proclamation for Lake, McHenry and Kane counties for flooding. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency will activate the State Emergency Operations Center this weekend and into next week to coordinate requests for assistance.

McClure Avenue in Gurnee is an eerily-lonely place on Friday evening.

Jose Barrera is among the neighbors here who can only watch, wait and hope.

"It's going to be hard. I might have to stay awake all night, try to keep the house dry," said Jose Barrera, Gurnee resident.

Friday morning, Barrera's backyard was barely covered in water. But by Friday evening, his home was an island, his first floor inundated. He was forced to move furniture and other items upstairs.

"If it gets worse, then we have to leave. We have to go somewhere else and forget about the house and just go somewhere else," said Barrera.

Gov. Rauner, after viewing the rising waters, answered his critics who said he was M.I.A. during the first two days of the crisis.

"We're not here to grandstand. We're not here to get in the way. We're here to thank our first responders. We're here to assess the situation," said Gov. Rauner.

The governor at midday on Friday said there was no need to declare a state of emergency, saying local authorities had a handle on the situation.

But six hours later, an about-face, the governor issuing a state disaster declaration for Lake, McHenry and Kane counties, which made state resources available.

The disaster declaration allows residents with devastating property damage and no flood insurance to get access to low interest loans.

Roughly 100 homes and 16 businesses have been flooded in Gurnee and the river has not yet crested. It's expected to crest between Friday night and Saturday morning around 12 feet, exceeding a record set in 1986.

Lake County officials say, as of Friday morning, more than 2,000 structures in the county were submerged. They expect that number to more than double before the waters recede.

"This is devastating and heartbreaking to see these flood waters in our town and we're not done yet," said Village of Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik.

The water continues to rise in parts of north suburban Gurnee. On Friday afternoon, Governor Bruce Rauner issued a disaster proclamation for Lake, McHenry and Kane counties for flooding.

Soon to be former Gurnee resident Brian Jackson has some advice for anyone wanting to buy a house in certain parts of the northern suburb, just don't.

"We're going to make a new start and pull together and get through this," said Gurnee resident Brian Jackson.

After the home they've lived in since 2003 flooded several times, the family's giving the house back to the bank and moving downstate, because of what they say is a cycle of increasing flood insurance costs and taxes. It's one example of the frustration felt by some here.

"It's frustrating with us having to deal with this every four or five years," said Gurnee resident Jim Oborny.

Prior to issuing the state disaster proclamation on Friday, Rauner fielded some fiery questions Friday in north suburban Gurnee about the state's response to this week's flooding.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner saw the flood damage in north suburban Gurnee in person Friday.

"I've been asked over the last few days, 'Governor, did you need to send in the National Guard? Wisconsin sent in the National Guard.' The answer is no, we don't need to send in the National Guard. Other states do. They don't have the resources at the local level. The first responders in Gurnee are awesome. The first responders in Libertyville, they've dealt with this. They have not even requested the state police to come and assist. They have not requested Illinois to send emergency management personnel. They're dealing with it very effectively. I would be here right now, directing Illinois personnel two days ago, if that was requested or retired," Rauner said.

Rauner spoke with volunteers and visited a few homes Friday.

He came under fire for being silent about the flooding in the north suburbs. Friday was the first time he addressed it, saying he wanted to stay out of the way and not use the flooding as a way to grandstand.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor signed a proclamation Thursday and sent it to the governor. Friday morning, two Democratic state senators urged the Republican governor to declare a state of emergency in Lake County.

"This is not just a very quick decision we can make. It sounds easy to make, but we have to make sure we are assessing everything we can," said James Joseph with IEMA.

More than two days after torrential rain fell on Lake County, people who live along the rivers were still waiting for the worst of the flooding to come.

A man on a Styrofoam boat paddled through the water Friday morning to keep pumps running. Sandbags were stacked against homes and businesses along the river to keep out as much water as possible.

"Right now we have some water seeping in to the basement. Now the outside is also reaching to the house. We have to make sure that we put a whole lot of sandbags," said Mitzie Jikomes, who lives in Gurnee.

"Hopefully it doesn't get into the main level of my house. It's set up high enough that it shouldn't. But if it does, then it's going to be a problem," said Kristy O'Brien, who also lives in Gurnee.

The sandbagging effort has brought the community together. Hundreds of people volunteered to help.

Gary Campbell's home off O'Plaine Road is surrounded by high water. It has been an agonizing wait for the Des Plaines River to crest above major flood levels.

"When I first moved in, (during) the flood of '85-'86, I had 43 inches in the basement. But that's when you don't know what flooding is. Then you learn from each flood," Campbell said. "Just wait and watch. Make sure the electricity stays on and the pumps keep running. Right now I have four pumps going. I've been very good this morning there's only about a half an inch on the basement floor. It's basically keeping it out of the garage."

The river is expected to reach its highest level, around 12 ft., between Friday night and Saturday morning. The record level in Gurnee of 11.9 ft. was set in 1986.

More road closures are expected as the water continues to rise. People have been using kayaks to get around the area of Route 132 near O'Plaine.


Some residents of north suburban Deerfield were only able to travel by boat Friday.

Residents in north suburban Deerfield started to see some of the flood waters recede late Friday morning.

But before that, Windi Carper was only able to get around by boat. High-standing water swallowed her neighborhood and virtually trapped people inside their homes.

"By yesterday, last night, it peaked up to 44 and a half inches," Carper said.

Watching the water gauge in the neighborhood, residents knew it was going to get bad quickly. They pitched in and started sandbagging.

"We've been through this a few times. In the 15 years I've lived here it's been, like, quite a few times. This is the worst," Carper said.

The water level measured 42 inches around 11:30 a.m. Friday.


New drone video shows severe flooding forced families out of their apartments in north suburban Grayslake.

In nearby Grayslake, new drone video shows severe flooding forced families out of their apartments. Many didn't have a safe home to return to Friday morning.

All of the people who live in an apartment complex in the 700-block of Brittany Square were forced to leave. Engineers said the standing floodwater made the buildings structurally unsound.

Some people could not even get their cars out. Residents left early Thursday with whatever they could grab.

"I can't even explain the feeling. There's nothing like just getting up, grabbing your kid and running. To come back and see everything you worked hard for just gone... in a rainstorm," said Nicole Barkes, a Brittany Square resident.

Some people planned to stay in shelters for at least a few days, until they figure out what to do next.

The flood also shut down the Grayslake airport, where the runway is underwater.


The Fox Lake community has also been watching the waters inch closer to their businesses and homes and are bracing for the worst.

The Fox Lake community has also been watching the waters inch closer to their businesses and homes and are bracing for the worst. In order to save their homes, their best line of defense is sandbags.

"Getting everything in the basement up and off the floor, prepared to pump the basement out if necessary, got a new sump pump," said Fox Lake resident Don Howard.

They have been working around the clock stacking sandbags around their properties.

"I think we are done. Two days of this already is too much for me. I am supposed to be retired," said Dave Battaglia of Fox Lake.

Over at the public works department, a mountain of sand. Some residents making multiple trips here.

"It is not hard but it is a lot of work. We need probably 200 bags because we are trying to save my house and my two neighbors' houses," said Fox Lake resident Jason Shapiro.

"We are keeping everything well stocked. Lake County Emergency Management has provided us with additional bags as well. So we are absolutely prepared for this situation," said Village Administrator Assistant Laura Linehan.

The Fox Waterway Agency has sand in place around their office and they're urging boaters and lakeside property owners to take extra precautions over the next few days.

"We have the major chain of lakes, 15 of them going down to small little area once it approaches the river and we can't get the water fast enough," said Joe Keller of Fox Waterway Agency.

Despite the encroaching waters, the stage is almost set for a community event scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at the American Legion.

"So hopefully it stays back there and doesn't flood the parking lot," said Ken Welninski with the American Legion.

Fox Lake has been through this before in 2013 and 2008. But the flooding expected over the coming days could be record breaking.

"The situation right now is detrimental, something the system has never seen before in terms of flood event. So we have waters coming in at levels that people have not seen since we have been recording these measurements," said Keller.

Neighbors say the water levels have risen several feet over the past few days. Right now it's just inches from coming over the retaining wall.

The families that live here consider themselves lucky because in other parts of Fox Lake the damage is done and more could be coming.

"This is the worse it's ever been," said Fox Lake resident Michael Fricke.

Water levels are rising along the Fox River and Chain O' Lakes, creeping closer to residents' homes.

The Foszcz family lives right off the lake.

"The water is right now about three inches from cresting coming over the sea wall," said Melanie Foszcz who is in town for a family reunion.

Even though the worse may be ahead they say, they're doing their best to make the most of it.

"This is my yearly family reunion, these are all my children, grandchildren," said Fox Lake resident Chris Foszcz. "We just have a ball. Every day there's something different."


Some cars braved the waters in the city of Des Plaines, but weren't able to get too far.

Some cars braved the waters in the city of Des Plaines, but weren't able to get too far.

Neighbors said the homes along the riverside have flooded basements and backyards.

On Friday morning, the river was still at major flood levels at 19.9 feet. Flood stage is 15 feet.

The Weather Service says it is expected to remain at that height through the weekend.

The river isn't expected to fall below flood stage until next Wednesday afternoon.

"We were actually going to stay, but we have a newborn and a two year old it's safer for them to just go somewhere else and we took our dogs and our babies and we left, but it's not fun seeing what's happening," said Des Plaines resident Dorina Sebe.

The city of Des Plaines initiated full lane closures in anticipation of potential rising water levels affecting safety.

The good news: the National Weather Service has since downgraded its forecast for the area, but neighbors are still bracing for the worst.

Even though the National Weather Service has downgraded its forecast, the river could still crest at record levels this weekend forcing more evacuations and damages to homes in the area.