Beneath Fox Lake's massive blue water tower Sunday afternoon, volunteers shoveled sand from a hill piled near the village's public works facility.
Beneath the hill, an assembly line worked diligently, funneling the sand through orange traffic cones and into white bags for home- and business-owners fighting an ongoing battle against a barrage of floodwater.
As flooding from the Des Plaines River continued its slow retreat Sunday, the focus shifted west to the Chain O' Lakes and Fox River, where record crests threatened to overwhelm water-weary residents.
They included Fox Lake residents Harold and Jennifer Gabel, who live along Nippersink Creek. "Our boats are all floating away from our dock and we have water up to our house in the backyard and coming on the front yard," said Harold Gabel, adding that his two piers are under water. "We have lived here for 40 years. This is the fourth time we've had to sandbag."
Amid the desperate work was some good news: Initial forecasts of Chain O' Lakes waters rising until Tuesday were revised, and the latest measurements show Fox Lake crested Sunday and is falling at a pace greater than anticipated, according to the Fox Waterway Agency.
The agency is predicting another inch of rain to fall on the area in the next five days, however.
Fox River rising
Downstream, Gov. Bruce Rauner and several local elected officials toured flood damage near Algonquin and met with crews and volunteers at the village's public works facility. The river stood about 2.6 feet above flood level Sunday afternoon, and is expected to crest at 3.2 feet above flood stage Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. That would tie a record set in 2013.
Even after the river crests, Rauner said, the water is expected to remain at high levels for a few days. Local emergency officials will decide if and when to call for evacuations, he said, and state personnel are standing by to assist if needed.
"We are anticipating what could be very significant flooding," he said. "We are making a strong request: If local officials ask for evacuations, please honor their request."
He also advised residents not to walk or drive through flooded areas.
Dan Prokop, whose house on La Fox River Drive backs up to the river, said the water gradual rise gave him time to prepare. He and his family started building sandbag walls on Thursday and have been adjusting as needed.
They've also been able to help several neighbors sandbag their properties and redirect the flow of the water.
"Everybody's been helping out each other," he said.
Four years ago, the water rose so quickly that residents didn't have access to supplies or equipment ahead of time, Prokop said.
"Luckily, this time, the flood is slow enough ... and we have plenty of stuff," he said. "We've survived so far. We'll survive this, too."
About 500 volunteers have helped fill more than 25,000 sandbags since last week's storms, Algonquin Village President John Schmitt said, and public works staff members and emergency responders have been working around the clock. Though several residents already have inches of water in their basements, he said, most have been able to mitigate some damage by being proactive.
"These people have been here before. This isn't our first rodeo," Schmitt said. "It's just been a real community effort to make sure that this (community) survives with as little damage as possible. It's been really heartfelt."
Volunteers have traveled from "all over" to assist with flood prevention and cleanup efforts in both the Fox and Des Plaines River valleys, Rauner added.
"The people of Illinois are incredible the way they come together to help each other in times of need," he said.
Rauner on Friday declared Lake, McHenry and Kane counties state disaster areas. On Sunday, he added Cook County to the list of disaster areas.
All in this together
Fox Lake Village Administrator Anne Marrin said the village has been proactive, activating its Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday because flood levels north in Wisconsin were high. She said the village had sandbagging stations set up in three locations -- public works, the community garden and in the Eagle Point subdivision.
The village also has been getting help from surrounding communities.
"The village of Lakemoor has been awesome. They sent their workers over on Friday and Saturday," Marrin said.
The village of Wauconda has helped as well, sending pumps. Spring Grove has sent two huge trucks, while Grayslake sent 1,000 filled sandbags, she added.
Katie McArthur said she just moved into her home on Lake Shore Drive in Spring Grove in December. She's been sandbagging and pumping out water since her crawl space filled with water Friday.
"Basically our house is becoming an island," she said. "We rented some powerful (pumps) yesterday, and we rented a couple more this morning."
Among the volunteers were Janet and Phil Madura, members of the Fox Lake Citizens Police and the Wauconda Community Emergency Response Team. Janet said she and her husband have been helping every day since Thursday.
"We have had an amazing turnout of volunteers," she said. "We're asking for more volunteers right now."
Besides preparing sandbags, volunteers are trying to boost the spirits of residents facing the flood.
"Don't give up. Don't give in. Keep fighting. Keep protecting yourself. We're here to help you," is the message, Janet Madura said.
Grant Community High School head football coach Chris Robinson, accompanied by 2-month-old daughter Libby in her stroller, also was helping out in Fox Lake.
"We're all in this community together. So anything that affects one person in this community affects all of us," he said.
Floodwaters continued to recede Sunday from record levels along the Des Plaines River, leaving homeowners from Gurnee to Des Plaines cleaning up wet basements, soaked carpets and damaged belongings.
Iryna Sikora, a resident of Big Bend Drive in Des Plaines, said the water in her basement is up to her knees. She has been in her house for three years.
"I have never seen that before, so I didn't expect it was going to be so bad," she said.
Though a damage estimate is not yet available, Rauner said roughly 6,800 buildings in Lake County are under a "significant amount of water." The extent of damage in McHenry County and the Fox Valley has not yet been evaluated.
The state is compiling damage reports and financial information to determine whether it is eligible to receive federal disaster assistance, Rauner added.
"Much of the work we're doing is in anticipation of what's coming," he said. "We will be assessing the situation in the coming days."