Thursday’s rain deluge ran off bare farmland and flash-flooded creeks, ditches and roads throughout the region.
Basement sump-pumping was widespread and attention quickly turned to a rising Illinois River.
At 7:45 a.m. the Illinois River was at 32.78 feet near La Salle, just 1 foot shy of the record set just five years ago. It was forecast to crest at 35.3 feet at 1 a.m. Saturday, and if this is realized, it would break the 2008 record by 1.5 feet, according to National Weather Service data.
At about 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Gov. Pat Quinn had declared 38 counties, including La Salle, Bureau, Putnam and Marshall as disaster areas. By Friday morning, the flood’s impact on residents was greatest in Ottawa and Marseilles.
Ottawa began evacuating east-side residents, who were urged to assess dangers and move if they need medical attention in the next few days.
“The concern is not that the east side will be flooded but that access to the east side will be cut off by floodwaters,” a press release from the mayor’s office read.
The city closed the Main Street bridge over the Fox River just west of Ottawa Township High School at 10 p.m. Thursday. By Friday morning the Fox River was nearly touching the underside of the bridge. Emergency personnel monitored the bridge and debris coming downstream.
Workers used sandbags to build up an existing berm around the school and around the sewer plant west of Allen Park.
Marseilles was evacuating people along the river, including residents of Rivershores HealthCare and Rehabiltation Centre. Up to 1,500 residents were being evacuated due to high water after a levee was breached when barges dislocated above the lock and dam.
Police would not let anyone other than emergency personnel into flood zone east of Main Street, north of the river and south of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Streets closed to traffic included Broadway, Illinois, Wallace and all north-south street intersecting with those.
In Putnam County, a raging Sandy Creek trapped a couple and their child in a rural home 3 miles southwest of Magnolia.
Four area fire departments rescued the trio with a hovercraft, said Mike Skowera, Standard Fire Chief. An electric utility crew responded to an outage in this valley, cut power to two homes and suspected the swollen creek knocked down a power pole.
Varna, Magnolia, Henry and Standard fire departments hustled Thursday tom calls of smoke in homes and flooded roadways, all blamed on the rain and electrical problems, Skowera said.
At the intersection of routes 89 and 18, Little Sandy Creek roared beneath two road bridges.
“I’ve lived here for 25 years,” said Chuck Ward of Magnolia. “It’s been high but it’s never been this high.”
Ward has three rental homes in Magnolia with basements taking water and backyards looked like ponds, he said.
“I’ve got the sump pumps running but they’re not keeping up,” Ward said. “It’s a mess.”
Route 18 two miles east of Magnolia was closed as water poured off a field in a 1/8-mile-wide swath, over the road and into the creek. Only the most daring drivers churned their way through this flowing puddle.
Ray and Julie Crew and their daughter, Kendra of Magnolia drove over to see the road. The rain gave Kendra the day off from school at Putnam County Elementary, Henry. It kept her parents from driving to work Thursday morning. Julie works at Hart Electric, Lostant. Ray Crew tried at 5 a.m. to reach his job at Owens-Illinois, Streator.
“I was about in the middle of it and about that time the water started coming splashing on top of the truck and I had to back up,” Ray Crew said. “My dad made it through (earlier). It’s crazy. They’re talking like we’re going to get more rain.”
La Salle County received from 3.8 inches to 5.1 inches in the 24 hours up to 11 a.m. Thursday. In the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. Friday, up to an inch was recorded in the county, according to the National Weather Service.
On Water Street, a rising and debris-laden Illinois River activated volunteers to build a floodwall around Sidetracks PJB tavern, Brandy’s bar and restaurant and Waterstreet Pub and Eatery.
The nearby Mertel Gravel Company trucked cement blocks down for wall-building. Peru city workers filled sandbags. Workers used plastic sheeting to fill in the cracks.
Inside Brandy’s, owners Brenda and Andy Rice prepared to move out all furnishings “that were not nailed down.” Furnishings and equipment were moved upstairs or into a trailer and hauled to high ground, they said.
“They said 37 feet,” Brenda Rice said. “I hope that they’re wrong.”
Next door, Waterstreet owner Russ Guynn was too busy to chat. He was on the phone with helpers, emphasizing the severity of the forecasted river levels. If the river hit 37 feet, the pub’s front door would be covered by 3 feet of water and his parking lot to the west would be completely covered.
Many basements in Peru were flooded by the deluge, which delivered 4.9 inches of rain by 10:15 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.
Thursday evening at the tiny riverside grouping of homes and cottages at Shippingsport west of the Route 351 bridge of the same name, Sally Tostavarsnik was preparing to leave her home and hoping the river wouldn’t do too much damage.
She said a projection of a flood about 3 feet higher than the record flood of 2008 is sending her the message to not stay in the house and fight the flood.
“That means we’re going to have to cut the power and get out of here,” Tostavarsnik said. She said if the river reaches 33 feet it goes up into her screen room and not the house; higher than that, and she’s not sure of the consequences.
“At 33 feet, it was all our sump pumps could do to keep up with it,” Tostavarsnik said, adding a comment on the river experts’ projections: “I’m kind of sitting here hoping they’re wrong, but I don’t thing they are.”
Work this winter to improve the dike and earthen berms around La Salle’s wastewater treatment plant couldn’t have come at a better time
The nearly $2 million, grant-funded project began construction in the fall to better protect the riverside plant after 2008-09 floods that caused about $1.2 million in damages.
“It shows the importance of this project,” public works superintendent Sam McNeilly said.
On midday Tuesday, La Salle city workers were able to quickly place a temporary flood wall at the entrance to the plant, effectively enclosing the plant within steel and earth designed to protect against “500-year flood” levels.
As of 9:40 a.m., routes 89, 351 and 251 crossing the Illinois River had been closed. The Sandy Ford Bridge near Leonore due to Vermilion River flooding was closed in La Salle County. Route 71 through Starved Rock State Park, Catlin Park Road and the west entrance road to Starved Rock State Park were among the road closings this morning.
La Salle County Nursing Home officials began taking precautions but had not declared an evacuation Thursday. Work crews sandbagged shipping and receiving docks while some residents made arrangements to stay with family.
Water from the storm rushed through the village of Tonica, overflowing Bailey Creek that runs through the south part of the village.
At about 9:30 a.m., farmland on the northwest side of town was flooded and running where it could, flooding backyards and streets. Several flooded streets were closed, including the intersection of First and Pontiac streets.
Deb Lawrence parked her sport-utility vehicle at Casey’s General Store. At one point water came up over the hood.
“The water just came so fast,” Lawrence said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
A man surveying the flooded Casey’s parking lot had water near the top of his rubber boots.
Bailey Creek ran more like a river Thursday morning. Martha Burgesson said she has lived in the village since 1949.
“This is the widest I’ve seen the creek,” Burgesson said, pointing toward flooded backyards.
Her son, Bob Burgesson, said this is the first time he has seen water flow over Pontiac Street from Bailey Creek.
Spring Valley officials worried about the wastewater treatment plant.
“If the water comes up like they’re suspecting we’re probably going to lose that treatment plant,” Mayor Cliff Banks said shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday.
Street department superintendent John Schultz monitored the plant and prepared for flooding. He disconnected power to the plant, Banks said.
“We’re doing everything possible. We just don’t know until the morning when it crests,” he said.
At the Spring Valley Boat Club fears were high based on the predicted crest level.
“Currently, we’re emptying the club out,” Scott Besola, a boat club board member.
Club members were using endloaders to haul as much as possible from the boat club building to trailers.
“We have intentions of going under water…it sounds like the water is going to go over our protective wall,” Besola said.
The 2009 floods came within ¾-inch of overflowing that wall, he said.
Water was covering the Lake Park and parts of First Street next to Lake DePue and was expected to reach Second Street.
“This is nothing we haven’t seen before,” said Dan Hoffert, village trustee. However, he said: “There are basements that are flooded that haven’t flooded before due to a huge influx of water last night.”
Workers sandbagged around the sewage plant.
A downed tree limb knocked out power to part of the village early Thursday but has since been restored.
Health and cleanup
La Salle County Health Department is offering free tetanus vaccinations and water testing kits. Vaccinations are available 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information contact the health department at (815) 433-3366 or (800) 247-5243.
Oglesby will pick up flood-damaged belongings at curbsides on Tuesday, April 23. Have items at the curb by 6 a.m. that morning. For information call City Hall at (815) 883-3389.
Peru contracted its garbage hauler, Illinois Valley Waste, to pick up materials damaged by flooding on residents’ regular collection day. Households can place damaged materials at the curb immediately.
Mendota will offer trash bins as soon as they become available for flood damaged items. The bins will be at the Mendota swimming pool parking and at 601 Eighth St. at the base of the downtown water tower. Only flood-damaged items can be dropped off, no appliances or electronics. Buckman, Main and Fifth streets, will accept appliances.
The governor’s disaster declaration will accelerate and expand access to state emergency resources as well as allow the state to formally pursue federal relief and support. The state has information at Ready.Illinois.gov and GettingAroundIllinois.com/gai.htm .
Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or firstname.lastname@example.org.