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updated: 5/3/2013 10:59 AM

Waste Management drivers rush to residents' cleanup in wake of flooding

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  • Waste Management driver Alfredo Sanchez hauls away  damaged furniture after heavy rains flooded basements in Lombard.

      Waste Management driver Alfredo Sanchez hauls away damaged furniture after heavy rains flooded basements in Lombard.

 
William Plunkett

Drivers for Waste Management of Illinois rushed into action to help communities clean up debris resulting from the record April rainfall that flooded suburban basements and saw Northern Illinois rivers overflow their banks as they rose to new high-water marks.

From the Wisconsin border south to Wilmington, a small army of Waste Management collection drivers spread out with extra trucks, industrial roll-off boxes and muscle to start hauling away the mountains of residents' debris.

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April was officially the wettest on record in the Chicago area, with 8.54 inches of rain. The resulting flooding and damage caused Gov. Pat Quinn to declare 38 counties state disaster areas.

In the Chicago area's far northern Lake County communities, Waste Management was forced to wait for flood waters from the Fox River to recede before cleaning up its service towns. "This is the worst I have ever seen along the Fox River," said Norm Lewis, Waste Management district manager.

Hard-hit communities included Gurnee, where the Des Plaines River overflowed its banks into residential areas. Along the Fox River, Algonquin, Fox Lake, and Johnsburg were affected. Holiday Hills was half underwater. All this spelled debris cleanup, tons and tons of it.

Several areas had flooded four times in the last six years. In Fox River Grove, the annual spring cleanup day was moved up a week. Drivers continued to serve towns whose streets were passable.

West of Chicago, Waste Management teams assisted Kane County residents in Elgin, North Aurora, Warrenville and Winfield along the Fox River, near washed-over creeks, and in low-lying areas where water collected and sump pumps failed.

District Manager Frank McCoy, a 40-year industry veteran, said 11 trucks picked up 280 tons of material from a Winfield cleanup on a single day. Normally, his driver team might collect 50 tons of material, he said.

McCoy brought in additional people from DeKalb operations and added helpers to assist drivers lift heavy materials like water-soaked carpeting and damaged furniture into the trucks. "Everyone was running maximum hours and we're seeing tonnages about double on the routes," he said.

In the northern suburbs of Deerfield, Lincolnshire and Northfield, residents piled high furniture and carpeting destroyed in flooded basements, said District Manager John Gerger. To deal with the water damage, Deerfield scheduled an additional cleanup day.

In addition to its normal collection operations, Waste Management placed its large industrial container boxes at numerous locations in its service communities. The cleanup depleted his supply of roll-off boxes, Gerger said.

Drivers found their trucks filling up fast. They took "packed out" trucks off their routes to transfer stations to unload frequently and return to the cleanup. Drivers normally making two trips in a day made three and more, Gerger said.

Westmont and Lombard were among the hardest hit towns Waste Management serves. There residents hauled rolls of water-clogged carpets, furniture and other debris to the curb for collection. In Lombard, large piles stacked high with heavy wet material stretched along curbs in most low-lying blocks.

Gerger said there was good communication with village administrators and the company responded rapidly to service requests.

The company devoted more resources to Hillside and Westchester cleanups. Twenty-four containers were placed in Westchester, 20 in Hillside. Two extra trucks were deployed in Westchester. Normally two drivers serve Westchester; the cleanup took six.

To the southwest, Waste Management focused resources on the Will County communities of Coal City, Elwood, Plainfield, Wilmington and Woodridge. The company assisted Will County environmental officials in aiding residents in unincorporated areas. In Joliet, much damage was due to sump pump failures.

District Manager Lisa Lorenz in Will County said flooded roads caused service delays as drivers could not complete their routes. Still, the drivers were glad to help, she said.

"Since most of them live in the community, we had a lot of people sign up for the (Plainfield) cleanup," she said. "We had more than enough volunteers." They were willing to put in the extra effort, she said.

During the rain on Thursday, April 18, lightning struck a roll-off truck operated by longtime driver Jim Conley along Int. Hwy. 55. A tire blew out. Conley was not hurt.

As the week ended, Waste Management's Illinois focus turned south to Central Illinois. As flooding began to ease up north, much of the water was headed south via the Des Plaines and DeKalb rivers to the Illinois River and on to the Mississippi. The company serves numerous towns and customers there, and Waste Management teams were gearing up for yet another cleanup effort.

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