Memories of Lisle flood 'nightmare' vivid a year later
If the sound of rain ever was calming to Debra Schulz of Lisle, it sure isn't now.
It hasn't been for the past year.
Because a year ago Friday, Schulz and thousands across the region awoke to devastating flooding after an overnight storm poured more than seven inches of rain on areas of DuPage County.
Rescued by a fire department boat from the flooded lower levels, parking areas and access roads of her eight-story apartment building, Schulz and her then 15-year-old daughter, Haleigh, started their day at a shelter at Benedictine University.
They couldn't move back into their apartment at the Towers at Four Lakes for two months, and Schulz says the psychological effects of their displacement have lingered.
"When we moved in, we thought everything would be right back to normal for us. But I found myself going through a whole bunch of different emotions," Schulz said, remembering the relief, the happiness, the worry. "Now, every time it rains, I undoubtedly will have another nightmare that we're being flooded again."
And Schulz might not have had the worst of it.
One year after the excessive rainfall overflowed rivers and submerged streets, Lisle Mayor Joe Broda said some flood-ravaged homeowners still have not returned.
"We've worked very closely with the residents trying to bring them back to some kind of normalcy, and that's very difficult," Broda said. "We still have residents who haven't moved into their homes yet because they're so severely damaged, and that's devastating."
Broda said the village is seeking "every nickel and dime" it can to help up to 39 homeowners with buyouts or renovation costs of raising their houses two feet above the base flood level.
Grant applications are in -- with the state seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency money, with the county seeking local disaster assistance, and with the state's department of natural resources. A federal grant worth $3 million is expected, as long as Lisle can come up with a $1 million match. But the money hasn't yet come.
A flowing problem
Both waterways in Lisle -- the east branch of the DuPage River and St. Joseph Creek -- were inundated with record-setting volumes of water April 18, 2013, said Marilyn Sucoe, a staff engineer and stormwater administrator for the village.
The east branch topped out at 17.79 feet -- seven feet above the normal level of 10.5 feet at Butterfield Road. The creek hit 14.98 feet at Ogden Avenue -- 10 feet above its normal level and four feet above the previous record.
It was all too much for the village's main stormwater control tool to handle.
The village does not own the land on which a 1960s-era levee was built along the river from I-88 to Burlington Avenue; so staff members don't have access to maintain it. There are trees and power poles built into the structure and some areas have been hit by settling or erosion.
"The integrity of the levee is not guaranteed," Sucoe said.
Water overtopped the structure, adding to flood frustrations and striking particularly hard the homes along the river west of Route 53 between I-88 and Burlington Avenue, Broda said. But south of Maple Avenue and west of the river, the Four Lakes community took on a torrent of water that flooded several condos and the lower levels of the Towers at Four Lakes apartment buildings.
'Foremost was safety'
None of the roughly 475 apartments suffered water damage, but an estimated 3.5 million gallons of floodwater fried the electrical system that powered both buildings. It took property manager Marquette Companies of Naperville almost two months to install a temporary electrical system and welcome back residents with a weekend of free meals, grocery gift cards to replace spoiled food and move-in help from Schulz's daughter and a flock of Montini Catholic High School students.
Jim Cunningham, executive vice president of Marquette Companies, is grateful the village of Lisle helped with permits and inspections of the nearly $4 million worth of renovations the company has made since the flood.
"First and foremost was safety for people who would be on the property," Cunningham said. "To be flexible enough to allow us to put in temporary power was tremendous because we got everybody in."
After she moved back in, Schulz said only one of the complex's two pools opened for the summer and her building has had some ongoing elevator problems. On one hot summer day, she said the power was out for several hours, and she lost another fridge full of food.
Cunningham said both elevators in each building were working two weeks after residents moved in, the complex's permanent power system was up and running by about September and the lower level parking area was reopened by December. The only repair work that remains is designing extra barriers that can be placed outside electric system vaults in the event of heavy rain and continuing to work through insurance claims.
The towers, which were 94 percent full before the flood, lost about 27 percent of their residents by the time the mid-June move-in occurred. Cunningham said the complex had rebounded by December from its post-flood low occupancy of 67 percent back to about 94 percent.
Schulz said she originally wanted out of the eighth-floor home she's leased for years, but recently extended her lease another 14 months.
"I re-signed because I love where I live and the staff are amazing people," Schulz said. "Everything looks better than even before."
While physically, things are back to pre-flood status at Four Lakes, the same can't be said for 19 homes on a primary list to be bought out by the village or 20 others on a secondary list to assist as funding permits.
Sucoe said Lisle could see the $3 million in federal funding it expects as soon as this summer, which actually would be quicker than past disaster relief allocations.
When the grant comes in and Lisle finds its $1 million match, Broda said the village will buy back flood-prone homes so no one will experience devastation there again. But the village isn't planning any infrastructure work to improve flood prevention.
"Once we purchase those homes, that land becomes open space and we can't do anything else with it," he said.
Lisle officials were on alert in February when a rainstorm melted much of a deep layer of snow and caused a new round of worries about flooding. The village escaped that danger, though it wasn't so lucky a year ago.
"Every time it rains, I wonder if it could happen again," Schulz said. "We were pretty traumatized by the whole event."