Des Plaines is bracing itself for what could be the worst flood in its history.
So far, eight people have been evacuated from homes off Hawthorne Lane and Big Bend Drive due to flooding, city officials said.
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A shelter has been opened at Prairie Lakes Community Center, 515 E. Thacker St. Fire department personnel are in the process of evacuating Big Bend Drive, Hawthorne Lane, Hawthorne Terrace, and Junior Terrace, officials said.
As of 9:45 p.m. Thursday, the Des Plaines River level was at 10.41 feet and it is expected to crest at 11 feet by 1 p.m. Friday, affecting roughly 5,600 single-family homes and condominium units just west of the river, officials said.
Residents living along the river are being encouraged to evacuate if water begins seeping into their homes.
"We are not putting in a mandatory evacuation," Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner said earlier in the day. "We are working with the Red Cross and the Des Plaines Park District to set up shelter at Prairie Lakes. That's the primary shelter at this point. That's the largest facility that we've got."
Tim Oakley, the city's director of public works, is leading the village's response to the flooding. Sandbag stations have been set up in five locations. "We will continue to keep those stored and lit through the night," he said.
Pumps and 2,500 feet of concrete barriers and plastic also are being employed to try and halt floodwaters along sections of River Road at Dempster Street and south of Howard Street, he said.
Public works crews have been working since 3 a.m. Thursday and will continue to operate through the night on 12-hour shifts, Oakley said.
There has been flash flooding at about a dozen locations all over town with overflowing storm sewers that are scheduled for upgrades as part of Phase 2 of the city's Stormwater Master Plan, he added.
The village's worst flood on record is the October 1986 flood, when the river crested at 10.9 feet, almost 6 feet above flood level, Oakley said. If the river crests as expected, "it would be the flood of record," Oakley said.
In all, roughly 1,500 acres of mostly residential properties are at risk in Des Plaines.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who visited the Big Bend Drive area Thursday afternoon, has issued an emergency declaration following the flooding and severe weather affecting areas across Illinois.
James Eck has lived his entire life in his home at the end of Woodland.
He's not sure he'll have a home tomorrow.
"Back when I was a kid it didn't rain like this," the Des Plaines native said. "Now, the rains are ridiculous."
Sandbags were stacked five-high near the back of his house, which is normally about 50 feet from the Des Plaines River, but today is less than three.
"I've got a little water in the basement, but if it gets in the first floor, I got mold, it gets condemned and then it's over," he lamented. "We'll fight it 'til we can't fight it any more and then we'll live in a YMCA I guess."
Scores of neighbors joined Eck and his family to fill and move sandbags.
"I had to buy this myself and have it delivered; the city wouldn't bring it close enough," Eck complained.
A few doors down, Debbie Campbell was taking pictures of the river as it inched toward the parking lot to her condominium complex. She hopes she doesn't have to evacuate and she's not sure if she'll be forced to.
"I've heard nothing from the city, but the homeowners association is arranging sandbagging," she said.
"It would be nice if the city would reach out and say, 'Hello. This is our plan for you.'"
City officials said they are doing what they can.
City officials declared a state of emergency at 4 a.m. Thursday. Additional workers from public works, police and fire departments were called in.
"It's all hands on deck," Oakley said.
Fire department boats are being mobilized to the more severely affected areas in town in case there is a need to evacuate residents, Kushner said.
The city is coordinating efforts with the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for additional resources, and with other area agencies, as well as working with volunteer groups. A number of police officers and citizen volunteers are directing traffic to detour routes, he added.
The last major flood in the village was in 2008 when the river crested at 10 feet, Oakley said.
While 10 major roads through Des Plaines affected by floodwaters have been closed, the Rivers Casino is open for business, a concern for many people who flooded the police department with calls wanting to know if they still could gamble.
Jim Potts, whose house on Shagbark Drive/Lane backs up to Shagbark Lake, was building a barrier Thursday to keep the lake water from entering his home.
Overflow from the Des Plaines River spills into the lake.
Potts said during the last major flood in 2008, the water level in the lake rose until it was 4 feet above ground at his back door.
"This is the second time," said Potts, who has lived there since 2006. "The water can come from the river and also come from the sewer system too. You're never quite sure. It starts to creep, but it will creep fast."
At CopySetCenter, 1801 E. Oakton St., owner Ed Davidson and Mike Matich, wearing new waders, sloshed through the water to deliver an order to a car Jim Carlson, of R.J. Printing, in Mundelein had driven as close to the business as the floodwaters would permit.
By late morning CopySetCenter had 6 inches of water on the floor and the equipment was unplugged and raised. Davidson said he got into work at 3:30 a.m. to try to get some orders finished before the water made it too dangerous to work.
"I was supposed to go out of town this morning for a convention, but that isn't going to happen," he said. In a previous flood, the business suffered $300,000 worth of equipment damage and another $100,000 in building damage, so he's been here before.
Around the corner on Maple Avenue, Isho Mishail was standing on the sidewalk saying he's got three sump pumps working simultaneously in his basement, which have kept the water there to a quarter-inch. His neighbor has one pump working, and he's got 4 or 5 feet of water. "He's got one pump," Mishail says. "It's not enough."
Public works employees have deployed sandbagging equipment at several locations and are continuing to drop off sandbags and sand.
At Cedar Avenue and Howard Street, residents are using the public works machines to fill the sandbags left for them. Jill Riend has lived in the neighborhood 13 years and filled sandbags four times.
"You can't avoid the damage it's going to do, but you can avoid the amount of damage it's going to do," she said.
According to a city news release, the following are the sandbagging locations:
Hawthorne Lane and Rand Road
Christ Church at Cora Street and Henry Avenue
Howard and Cedar streets
Woodland and Grove avenues
Dawn Court and Ballard Road
Apple Creek and Busse Highway
River Road and Stewart Avenue
River Road and Shagbark Lane
Locust Street and Riverview Avenue
Welwyn Avenue and Birch Street
Cedar and Fargo streets
Graceland and Willow avenues
The following street locations have been closed:
Eastbound Northwest Highway from Broadway Street to Western Avenue
Oakton Street between River Road and Lee Street
Big Bend Drive
2000 Block of Fargo Avenue
Golf Road between River Road and East River Road
Lee Street between River Road and Elk Boulevard
River Road between Golf Road and Perry Street
River Road between Miner Street and Touhy Avenue
Central Road between East River Road & River Road
Eastbound Rand Road from Golf Road
Algonquin Road between River Road and Lee Street
Maple Street from Oakton Street to Riverview Avenue
Busse Highway at Miner Street
Elk Boulevard from Lee Street to Rand Road
Ballard Road from Rand Road to East River Road
Rand Road from Golf Road to Dempster Street
Northbound River Road at Central Road
Graceland Avenue between Willow Avenue and Rand Road
Rand Road between River Road and Graceland Avenue
Acting Mayor Mark Walsten declared a local state of emergency at 4 a.m. Emergency calls should be directed to 911. Des Plaines residents are advised to turn to cable channel #17 and the city's website, desplaines.org, for more information as it becomes available.
Flooding information and nonemergency calls may be directed to the Des Plaines Emergency Management Agency (EMA) at (847) 391-5396.
The City of Des Plaines Emergency Management Agency will continue to monitor the situation and will issue additional information as needed.
The City of Des Plaines and Cook County Department of Public Health encourage the public to follow these safety tips to protect against disease and hazards that flooding can bring:
• Do not allow children to play in flooded areas. Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths. Six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet.
• Before entering an area that has been flooded, turn off the electricity. Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. Current can travel through water.
• If your electricity is out, use battery powered flashlights or lanterns. Do not use candles, gas lanterns or torches because gas lines may be broken and an explosion may occur. Wear boots and rubber gloves to reduce contact with contaminated water. Remember to wear mosquito repellent with DEET around standing water. Wash hands with warm soapy water, especially before any activity where there may be hand to mouth contact (eating or preparing food).
• If a puncture wound or cut occurs while working in a flooded area, a tetanus shot should be administered. Contact your physician or go to your emergency room. Waterborne illness may bring symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, muscle aches and fevers. Seek medical help.
• If your electricity is off, a fully stocked freezer will keep food frozen for 24 hours if the door remains closed. Food in the refrigerator will stay cool for four to six hours, depending how warm the kitchen is. When in doubt, throw it out.
• Check all cans or bottled goods that have been in floodwater. Cans of food are usually safe if undamaged. Immerse for ten minutes in a chlorine solution (1/4 cup laundry bleach to one gallon water), then rinse and dry thoroughly. Throw out any cans with dents or rust spots.
Containers with cork lined lids or caps, screw tops or pop-tops are nearly impossible to thoroughly clean. Throw them out.
• Refrigerated foods such as meat, milk, or foods which contain milk or a milk-based products should be discarded if the inside temperature of the refrigerator has risen above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours.
• If you do not have bottled water and have access to a stove, water can be made safe by boiling it for five minutes at a rolling boil. Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, make ice or brush teeth. To test water from your well, or for further information about environmental issues, please call the CCDPH Environmental Health Unit at 708-492-2000. TDD: 708-492-2002.
• Daily Herald staff writer Eric Peterson and Steve Zalusky contributed.