June 9, 2008

Are you on the dry side of the street ... or under water?

No picnics in this backyard on Island View

The bridge at Kinzie and Horlick

In many cases, it came down to something very simple: for example, what side of the street your house is on.

On one side: dry basements, few problems. On the other -- closest to the Root River -- disaster. Water up to the ceiling in the basement, rooms and possessions ruined, the furnace gone forever.

Lucy Chaffee, who has lived on Park View for seven years, has a line of sandbags, three deep, on the river side of her house, put there by a Public Works crew about 8:30 this morning. So far, the Root River hasn't risen beyond them. Not that it really matters: she has six feet of water in her basement anyway.

"Our house is at the highest point on the street," she says wryly. "It's never been like this before." Her basement flooded, apparently, due to runoff and ground water. She has no sump pump -- "I wish I did," she said -- not that it would have done any good once the power on her street was turned off by We Energies.

Still, she says she's one of the "lucky" ones, who has flood insurance. "I've complained about paying it for the last seven years, but now it's OK!"

While we spoke, Norb Rolfers of We Energies was high overhead in a crane, cutting powerlines to this house and that -- making sure that when the power was restored to the neighborhood as a whole it would not come on to those homes still flooded. Electricity and gas crews were walking up and down the riverside, on Park View, Domanik and other flooded areas, asking homeowners whether they had water in their basement. The answer, on the river-side of the street, was usually yes, and those houses lost power -- to be restored who-knows-when.

Over in Island Park, there were places you just couldn't go. The streets were knee-high in water and police were routing traffic as best they could.

Jennifer Doyle said, "It was like a carnival atmosphere last night; people with cameras were out at Spring Street, watching the rushing water." Normally the Root is 6 inches to two-feet deep there -- too shallow for canoes even. But that was then, this is now. "They had sandbags stacked up on the wall at the bridge. We were watching and it was amazing how fast the water was rising. We drove on Spring Street at 10:30 p.m., but by midnight the water was too high," she said.

The city has a wastewater pumping station on Spring Street, which pumps sewage toward the treatment plant. This morning, a hose from the building was pumping water into already-flooded Spring Street ... but it wasn't sewage, only rainwater from inside the building. Sam Hoffmann, wearing hip waders, ran up with a spare pair of boots for a co-worker.

Waiting for the next batch of sandbags at Lutheran

At Lutheran High School, hope was palpable. A line of more than 1,000 sandbags ringed the school, courtesy of the Department of Public Works. Around noon, there was no water in the school ... although predictions that the river would rise another nine inches made workers nervous. Across the street, sump pumps were trying to keep up with basement seepage.

On Domanik, the United Way -- located on the first floor of Lincoln Lutheran's four-story headquarters -- was fighting the rising water. You couldn't get to the building without wading through it, and by about 9 a.m. this morning, the place was "waterlogged," with about three inches of water on the floor. Computers had been relocated to the second floor. "We're closed for the week, I'm sure," said Dave Maurer, United Way's executive director. Staff and volunteers will meet off-site as necessary.

Horlick Dam was a maelstrom. Water was rushing over the top creating a whirling rapids below. More problematic, water was pouring through the dam's retaining wall on the north side, next to the Day's Inn Riverside.

Horlick Dam, not holding back much water.

...and here's the dam's leaking retaining wall.

Meanwhile, more rain is predicted.

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