Flash Flood Warning in effect; ice jam near I-55 bridge breaks, Kankakee River could rise 3-5 feet

Saturday, January 27, 2024
Kankakee River flooding forces evacuations in Wilmington
Thawing ice and rain are causing flash flooding along the Kankakee River Friday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thawing ice and rain caused flash flooding along the Kankakee River Friday.

At about 8:15 p.m. Friday, a large ice jam near the I-55 bridge over the Kankakee River broke. The National Weather Service said locations immediately downstream of the bridge could see a rapid rise in river levels of 3 to 5 feet. The flash flooding in areas near the ice jam could be life-threatening, the NWS warned.

A Flash Flood Warning is in effect for Will and Grundy counties until 9:15 a.m. Saturday.

Wilmington police said the river rose at least three feet overnight, and asked residents to avoid Route 53 between Route 102 and First Street.

Residents throughout downtown Wilmington should be prepared to take action, including evacuation, if necessary, police said.

"Flooding in downtown Wilmington is currently isolated to the North and South Islands. However, ice remains solid on the Kankakee River and water levels are steadily increasing due to water runoff and melting ice. The ice jam on the river has not fully broken and there is the potential for flooding throughout the day as ice begins breaking apart at a rapid pace," Will County Emergency Management Agency said.

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The Will County Emergency Management team evacuated at least 14 people overnight. One bridge is shut down after it was torn up by water and ice. One of the main bridges on Route 53 reopened Friday afternoon.

The Wilmington Moose Lodge, located at 32050 W. River Road in Wilmington, is serving as an emergency lodge for anyone seeking shelter.

Some families in Wilmington in Will County are out of their homes.

"I was on my way home from work at about 10:50; I got home, and right here was starting to come up a little bit, and then I decided to come back outside to look, and now it's just flooded," Wilmington resident Daniel Beck said. "Very bad, it's devastating, all these homes the Van Duyne motel I heard is getting evacuated. It's pretty bad."

Julie Schmitke was staying in that motel.

"I didn't think it was that bad, except for the fact that they had to carry me because I have one leg. They had to carry me to a drier room, and then I was just waiting there for the ambulance to come and transport me," she said.

Some 1,200 people could be impacted by flooding.

"It's overwhelming. I feel sorry for all the residents and the businesses that it's going to affect. It's devastating," said Marvin Mack, Papa's Pickins Antique Shop owner.

On Friday morning, as the hours passed, the water continued to rise.

"Every night when I leave, I come to take a look at it. And you see it's slowly starting to climb, and now it's just like a dam broke loose," Mack said.

Mack owns an antique shop near Baltimore and Water streets, which is now blocked off to traffic, because the streets are so flooded.

"It's just really a freak incident, a combination of the ice and water at the same time. Warm weather coming in at once. It's not usually 50 in January and February," he said.

Lori Whited and others who have businesses along the channel are holding their breath, as water creeps closer to their back door.

"There's always ice back ups this time of year, but I've never seen it this bad," said Whited, who owns Lionsmark Auction Company. "It's pretty scary. We've been here for quite a few years and we've never seen the water come up on this side of the river. It's always the other side. So we're very concerned, right now."

The water level is just yards away from her auction business.

She's spending Friday clearing everything out of the basement, in case it floods.

"That's our main focus. If it comes into our building, there's not a lot we can do," Whited said.

Some residents prepped by putting sandbags around their homes.

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