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updated: 4/18/2013 1:29 PM

Milwaukee Avenue levy gates now closed

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The levy gates on Milwaukee Avenue were to have been closed at 1 p.m. in Prospect Heights, city officials said, meaning the major thoroughfare is closed to traffic between the Palatine Road overpass and Camp McDonald Road until further notice.

Mayor Nick Helmer has officially declared a state of emergency in the city, as the Des Plaines River has already reached critical flood stages, particularly on the city's east side. River Road and Willow Road were closed this morning, and numerous residential streets are flooded, too.

Sand and sandbags are available at 31-33 E. Palatine Road and at Prospect Crossing Shopping Center on Rand Road.

The state of emergency allows the city to suspend its own rules and regulations "in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and residents of the City of Prospect Heights," the statement says. According to City Manager Anne Marrin, the emergency declaration, "gives us the power to do whatever is needed," which could include towing cars, opening an emergency operations center in City Hall and getting permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to sandbagging the 600-foot hole in the levy that is endangering property and people.

It also, says Helmer, gives Prospect Heights the tool to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for money to help offset the costs of the storm, which primarily is overtime.

"We're about to pass a balanced budget Monday night," Helmer said. "Now we're faced will all kinds of extra costs." Declaring a state of emergency means the city can ask FEMA for reimbursement.

Helmer said he also expects to see Gov. Patrick Quinn today, as he tours flood damaged areas.

Helmer and Marrin said they are currently talking with other agencies in the city to offer emergency shelter for people forced to leave their homes.

There are already major problems on the city's east side, Helmer said, and the Des Plaines River has yet to crest. "We've got parking lots that were designed 30 years ago to be detention areas," he said, pointing out that many of them are at present filled with cars.

The city is not calling for mandatory evacuations at this time, but Helmer believes people with ground floor condos on the east side will suffer significant damage.

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