Flood outlook varies town-to-town as more officials promise help
While some river and lake communities Saturday saw water levels begin to recede in the wake of Wednesday's downpour, others still are bracing for the worst of the fallout from flood-ravaged rivers.
In Gurnee, floodwaters topped a 31-year-old record set in 1986, rising more than 5 feet above flood stage to 12.03 feet, with an expected crest of 12.2 feet coming Sunday. In Algonquin, the Fox River reached 11.88 feet by Saturday evening, with the National Weather Service predicting it will crest nearly a foot higher, at 12.9 feet, sometime Tuesday.
In Lincolnshire, the level was starting to climb again after dropping below its Wednesday crest of 16.53, 4 feet above flood stage. A second peak of 16.3 feet is expected sometime Sunday. In Des Plaines, meanwhile, flooding fell well short of the record once predicted and river levels continued to drop.
On Saturday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider and other state representatives got a briefing on flood conditions at Lake County's Emergency Management Agency in Libertyville.
Kurt Woolford, chief engineer of the Stormwater Management Commission, explained a series of maps and hydrographs showing water levels in different communities.
"We can use our technology to predict which areas will flood," said Woolford, warning of more than 6,100 structures at risk in the Fox Lake and Chain O' Lakes areas.
After the briefing, Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor took some of the politicians to a Gurnee news conference at Warren Township High School, which saw flooding at its northern border.
"The county is moving forward with waiving fees for individuals who are requesting building permits related to flood-related projects," among other steps to help those impacted by the flood, Lawlor said. "We're trying to bring some relief to residents."
Durbin praised the local volunteers and pointed to the bipartisan delegation assembled that included Illinois state representatives Sam Yingling, a Democrat from Round Lake Beach, and Sheri Jesiel, a Republican from Winthrop Harbor, to assess the situation and offer their support.
"I've learned over the years from having covered a lot of natural disasters don't over-promise -- don't tell people the federal government is going to ride to the rescue," Durbin said "There are certain dollar amounts that have to be hit before some federal programs kick in. We're going to keep track of everything we can in cooperation with state and local officials and do our best to bring home every dollar we can to help in this crisis."
"Our office is here is a resource," said Schneider, a Democrat from Deerfield. "Please don't hesitate to call and let us know what we can do to help you."
"We need continue to stay vigilant and continue to work together and continue to look out for people -- particularly our elderly, our seniors who need help," said Hultgren, a Republican from Plano. "Neighbor helping neighbor is really going to be the best way we're going to get through this."
A Gurnee neighborhood resident, Jim Oborny, appeared at the news conference to express his frustration with the repeated flooding.
"I've lived here 12 years and we've had to deal with this three times. I'm thinking long-term solutions -- engineering studies of the rivers and the watersheds," Oborny said. "The state and federal government need to do more."
Meanwhile in Des Plaines, the river had fallen to 19.28 feet by Saturday evening from a high of 19.88 feet on Thursday, and a steady decline was projected over the next few days. At one time, a record crest of 21 feet was projected.
Des Plaines residents weren't rejoicing, however.
Along the 1400 block of Willow Avenue, a subdivision west of the world's first franchised McDonald's in Des Plaines, neighbors were checking in with each other and trading cleanup advice as basement sump pumps spurted water from hoses directed out to the street.
Waheed Fatimaazhar said she had two sump pumps installed in her townhouse after the flooding in 2013. But her basement still flooded, damaging all the new drywall she had installed.
"Everything is just swimming," Fatimaazhar said, gesturing just above her knee to show the water level in her basement. "I've been here almost 20 years. I'm tired of this flooding area."
Danka Bisak, who was visiting with her father, Jozef, said , "This flooding seems to happen every four to five years. It's an annoyance."
Acknowledged that it wasn't as bad as in 2013, they expressed aggravation that they and their neighbors would be facing yet another clean up.
"The pumps are working nonstop," Danka Bisak said. "If your pump dies, your basement fills up."
For those who have to evacuate, The American Red Cross has established emergency shelters at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, 682 S. Lewis Ave., Waukegan, and Magee Middle School, 500 N. Cedar Lake Road, Round Lake, said spokeswoman Joy Squier.
Volunteers were in Round Lake Beach and Fox Lake on Saturday and will be in Fox Lake, Grayslake and Lincolnshire on Sunday to provide disaster assistance, said Squier, who expects the agency will hand out more than 1,000 cleaning kits and comfort kits (consisting of toiletries) to area residents before the weekend concludes. Approximately 70 Red Cross volunteers were working in the area.
Squier said anyone needing assistance or interested in volunteering should check the organization's website at redcross.org/il/chicago. People needing assistance can also call (847) 220-7495.
Many of the impacts of the flooding are yet to be felt. For example, severe damage to Murphy and Ellis elementary schools in Round Lake Unit District 116 could delay the start of fall classes. School officials are posting updates on the district's website, rlas-116.org.
On a more positive note, The Chicago Botanic Garden reopened Saturday after being closed Thursday and Friday for only the second time in more than 40 years. Officials expect minimal long-term impact on its 2.6 million plants.