State and federal crews visit flood damaged areas in Lake County
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Pumps at the Orihuela home just east of the Des Plaines River in Lincolnshire were still working Monday, with one sending stormwater through a hose, out the garage and down the driveway.
"Sorry about the mess," Alex Orihuela, 19, said of the furniture and assorted items stacked on the lawn — all of it damaged beyond salvage when more than 5 feet of water filled the basement.
"It was all mud in there," his dad, Carlos, added later. "We worked all weekend to get a lot of it out." Doing some quick mental math, Carlos estimated the damage at $40,000 to $60,000.
This scene in the Lincolnshire Drive neighborhood was among those surveyed in various locations by state and federal officials on the first day of what is known as a preliminary damage assessment. Gov. Pat Quinn has declared 48 counties as state disaster areas, but it is to be determined whether state and local resources alone are enough to help communities and residents recover.
"What we need to do is make sure we have documented enough damage to fully make the case for a federal (disaster) declaration," explained Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
Five teams composed of personnel from IEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Small Business Administration and local officials visited flood damaged areas in Lake, Cook and DuPage counties to begin what Thompson described as a "very important part of the process".
Information gathered Monday and likely in the next several days will be used to support Quinn's request for federal assistance.
"What makes the case strongest for us are homes that we see have the most major damage," Thompson said.
Local officials identified areas to be reviewed, which in Lake County included Lincolnshire, Deerfield, Gurnee and Fox Lake.
In Lincolnshire, the Des Plaines River crested at nearly 5 feet above flood stage on April 19, and the Orihuela family had to leave their home for several days.
The teams on the streets Monday weren't compiling dollar amounts but providing a bigger picture view of the extent of the damage by looking at water marks on building exteriors, for example.
How high did the water rise on a structure? Was living space affected? Was a home heavily damaged?
"We're not going in and writing up damage estimates for each house," said Bettina Hutchings, a FEMA spokeswoman. "Overall, we're looking at the broad amount of damage."
Detailed damage estimates would follow for those who registered if a federal disaster is declared.
"This is just the beginning," Hutchings said. "It's not a process they take their time with. They try to do it as fast as possible because people are waiting and there's a need."
The work that began Monday relates to potential assistance for individuals or businesses. What is known as public assistance also may be available for communities and other government entities.
As of Monday afternoon, 45 units of government in Lake County had submitted expenses totaling about $4.7 million, well above the threshold of $2.4 million needed should a federal disaster be declared, according to Kurt Woolford, chief engineer and flood response manager for Lake County Stormwater Management Commission.
The commission using GIS modeling had estimated 4,500 structures in Lake County were affected in some manner by flooding.
"They've got a lot of work ahead of them. Hopefully, they've got really comfortable shoes," Thompson said.
Woolford said that as of Monday morning, the entire Des Plaines River had fallen out of flood stage and the Chain O' Lakes had dropped below 7 feet, the unofficial marker for major flooding.
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