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Julita Sidorowicz works to pull nails and screws out of walls with her fiancée Michael Callahan. The pair are working in the home of Matt Callahan — Michael’s brother — on Illinois Street in Marseilles, which was damaged by the flooding.
Patty Newberry leads her second graders in a discussion about severe storms during a reading lesson in Marseilles Church of the Nazarene on Thursday morning. The students have been temporarily located to the church and school buildings in Seneca while repairs are being made at Marseilles Elementary from the flood in April.
MARSEILLES — It’s been one month since torrential rains poured down over the Illinois Valley and record-breaking flooding days later devastated the lives of many who live in communities along the Illinois River. Hardest hit was Marseilles, with most of the damage concentrated on a riverfront neighborhood of modestly-priced homes covering a 13-block area south of Broadway Street. All that’s left of one section of Aurora Street is the sewer drain — the rest has been reduced to an ankle-twisting mixture of gravel, dirt and rubble. This section of road had been the path Gordon Treest took to enter his driveway. Now he just parks in the side yard when he wants to check on what’s left of his home. “I don’t think I can rebuild and the city is going to charge us to tear it down,” Treest said. “I own the home so I can’t give it back to the bank. I’m just out. Period.” Throughout the neighborhood are massive trash containers placed one per block and a handful of Port-A-Johns. The once-massive piles of building materials are smaller now as most residents here have finished gutting their homes to the wall studs. “It’s just a big mess,” said Tony Vaccaro, who was doing some last-minute cleanup at his grandson Matt Callahan’s home before a mold cleanup crew were to arrive. “Some of these places down the street don’t look bad until you go inside.” Front yards in the neighborhood feature a lot of similarities. Plant life has been reduced to hostas and dandelions. Most porches have been knocked off their foundations. And warning signs have been duct-taped next to every front door. A yellow sign means it’s OK to enter. Red means don’t even think about opening the door. But once inside a home, the damage is clear. Water levels for these residents reached nearly chest deep inside their living rooms. Many said they came home to refrigerators and other comforts that had floated into different rooms. No one here had flood insurance. Certain laws make it incredibly expensive to carry such insurance in areas not deemed to be in a floodplain. So the question for many has become whether to tear it down or rebuild. Most have already left, whereas a few, such as Callahan, are relying on help from his family to rebuild. “He doesn’t have much of a choice but to rebuild and move on,” said Callahan’s brother, Matt, who has been working on the home while his brother works in Morris.
Home of the Panthers On the other side of the neighborhood is Marseilles Elementary School, where cleanup and demolition crews are removing $3 million to $6 million worth of damage inside the building’s first two floors. Meanwhile, school officials, children and parents are still adjusting to new school buildings. Sixth through eighth grades are taught in the old Seneca High School building. Fourth and fifth grades are in Seneca Grade School. And kindergarten through third are being taught at Marseilles Church of the Nazarene. Teaching public school children within a church creates an interesting juxtaposition. You may find Mrs. Shehorn’s kindergarteners happily creating dinosaur pictures inside a room with a large picture of Jesus Christ with the caption, “Jesus will always be your friend.” But no one here cares. The church is happy to help. And the school is happy to be helped. For now, the church has been equipped with an overabundance of fire extinguishers placed throughout the building to meet state-mandated “school” fire codes. Dozens of water cooler jugs line a closet where students are now given a cup of water after recess instead of gulps from a drinking fountain. And at least one fire official and one police officer are on hand at all times to meet more state-mandated health and safety needs. “The staff has had to step out of their comfort zone and get creative,” said assistant principal Rose McIntyre. “We have staff luncheons, breakfast potlucks. (We) give them time at the end of the day to talk, laugh, vent, anything they need. It’s a different kind of bond. I think we’re pulling together.” Students are a little cramped in some areas. But each grade has its own room, complete with folding tables and matching chairs. And, fortunately, other schools throughout the area have donated school supplies. “The kids have been great,” McIntyre said. “They’ve adjusted beautifully.” Superintendent JoEllen Fuller said she and school board members hope to begin bidding out construction work next month. She said its unlikely the first two floors of the school will be ready by August, but the current situation “is not home” so its likely modular buildings and some well coordinated cramming in the upper floor classrooms will take place until construction is finished later this year. “For all of the devastation there is some positive stuff coming out — definitely,” Fuller said. “Overall, parents and the community have been coming in to help. It’s amazing.”