Got a good flood story? Please share. Here are some of ours.

  • Forty years later, Bull-Bull survives, thanks to sportswriter Kevin Schmit's resourcefulness at flood-damage repair.

    Forty years later, Bull-Bull survives, thanks to sportswriter Kevin Schmit's resourcefulness at flood-damage repair. Courtesy of Kevin Schmit

Updated 7/23/2017 8:38 AM

Twenty one years ago, copy editor Rick Kirby lived on the Fox River in Aurora. He recalls some idle noontime chatter with a store clerk about the incessant rain on July 16, 1996.

When Rick left work that evening, it was still pouring. A cement boat ramp on the river was submerged, and water was boiling up from the street's manholes. I'll let him pick up the story.


"I should have grabbed the family and fled then, but I'd never been in a flood, so I didn't realize what was coming.

"About an hour after arriving home, my daughter and niece came running to me: 'Dad, you have to look at the basement!' Since the basement always gets a little damp from wet weather, I didn't feel compelled to hurry. I was halfway down the steps when I heard it. Water gushing and spraying into all four basement windows. My house had hit an iceberg. Water was about three inches deep in the basement, and visibly rising.

"I ran back up the stairs and out the back door and from the porch I could see through the flashes of lightning that the backyard had become a lake, except the water was rushing like a river, into my house and through my garage. The cars!

"Water was almost to the engines. I managed to wade through the water, up to my knees, and got both vehicles to the higher roadway. Lightning continued its relentless barrage, making the task more harrowing. The river was now up the high bank, splashing against the bridge, and raging right next to the road. The normally lazy Fox River looked like the Mississippi. If it spilled over, we would be trapped.

"I called the city's emergency services: Should we leave? They couldn't say, but asked me for a report on the river, then told me they could deliver sandbags if I needed them. Too late for that.

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"We loaded up both cars during the strobe-like deluge and headed for higher ground. By now the manholes weren't bubbling, they were spraying 20-feet high like geysers. We were in the middle of a disaster movie, but it was real.

"After several roadblocks and nervous attempts through high water, we made it out of town and to the relatively drier Wheaton.

"No one who was in Aurora at that time can't relate to what is happening in Algonquin today."

I remember that day well, too. An incredibly intense and narrow band of storms dumped 16 inches of rain on Aurora, Naperville, Lisle and significant but lesser amounts on towns to the east. I lived on a hill at the top of a cul-de-sac in Naperville, and our house was spared, but the water at the base of my street easily was 3 feet deep. I remember the rainfall tally well because I had left a garbage can out overnight, and it filled with rain. To get a reading, I stuck a yardstick in it.

I also remember being in a state of mild panic because I didn't know how I'd get to work to oversee the DuPage staff's coverage of one of the biggest natural disasters we'd ever seen. But at about 11 a.m., it was like God had pulled a giant plug somewhere and the street water drained quickly.


Rick's was the most compelling flood tale I received after soliciting the staff for flooding horror stories, prompted, of course, by the relentless and historic flooding of the Des Plaines and Fox rivers. My belief that everyone has at least one good flood story was reinforced when Pete Nenni, also a deputy managing editor, shared how he lost a White Sox Hall of Famer Ray Schalk-autographed model catcher's mitt, stuffed with straw, and from the early 1900s. It was ruined when Pete's parents' basement flooded while he was away at college.

Save the dog!

Staff writer James Fuller was housesitting for his aunt and uncle who lived near Glen Ellyn about 15 years ago. It was raining buckets as he drove there with daughter Hannah.

"There was debris cascading down my aunt and uncle's street as I pulled into their driveway. I could see railroad ties from my aunt's garden floating in their submerged backyard as I grabbed Hannah and ran into their house.

"I knew it was going to be bad. The water from the backyard was already pouring down the exterior steps that led to their basement. The measly drain outside the basement door could not keep pace.

"I put Hannah on a chair at the kitchen table and took a look down the basement stairway. Disaster. Furniture was floating past the steps. The water was high enough that it was approaching a big electric strip that powered their entertainment center and computer station. I honestly feared some level of electric shock or electrocution if I went down there.

"I hated to interrupt their vacation, but I knew I had to call my uncle. But as I picked up the phone, I heard a frantic splashing sound in the basement. And that's when I remembered they had a dog. A 15-year-old female mutt named Pepper. She'd been my grandma's dog before she passed away. The dog was kind of like a little living shrine to my grandma. And for much of teenage years, my grandma had been the single most important person in my life.

"So instead of calling my uncle, I called Hannah's mom, Erika. I explained the situation. I had to go down there and see if I could find/save the dog. The plan was I'd put the phone in Hannah's hand on speaker, and I'd sing "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" real loud as I went down. If I suddenly stopped singing, Erika was to hang up and call 911. It was an incredibly dumb plan. But I had to save that dumb dog.

"So I went down to the basement. The water was about mid-thigh. And there was a sopping wet Pepper cowering on a couch that was floating back and forth between the two far walls. As I reached her, the water level reached that big power strip. And, sure enough, I got a jolt until the power shorted out (the fuse box was also in the basement). My "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" gained a few cuss words. But I got the dog and got back upstairs.

"My uncle raced back after I called him. We spent the next week bailing water and drying the place out.

"Pepper lived about another three years."

Restoring Bull-Bull

Prep sports writer Kevin Schmit has one that underscores the value of keeping your treasured collectibles in a safe place.

After his basement flooded, the losses included his high school senior yearbook, vinyl record collection, "and my most-precious childhood stuffed animal: Bull-Bull."

"As an act of defiance against the devastating damage," Kevin says, "I decided to do everything I could to salvage Bull-Bull. I gently sliced him open and pulled out all the ruined 40-year-old stuffing. I soaked his musty and smelly bright red fur in Woolite. A novice at crafting, I figured out how to stuff him with new stuffing and sewed Bull-Bull back together.

He now proudly sits on a shelf in our basement ... our new basement. We moved out of the flood house about three years ago."

Those are a few of our stories. Please help prove my point by sending me your flooding stories, be they horrific or funny (in retrospect, of course).

We'll publish the best of them, perhaps in the paper this week or in a special section we're doing on these historic floods.

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