Lake County declared disaster area; sandbagging continues
The torrential rain may have stopped, but Fox Lake resident Steve Fulk wasn't about to take it easy Thursday.
Worried about the rising waters of the Chain O' Lakes, Fulk spent Thursday building a retaining wall behind his Park Avenue home to keep floodwaters away.
"If people wait too long, it'll be too late," Fulk said. "Anyone who has lived here for a while knows what's coming. It's going to be bad."
Weather and natural resource experts agree. Even as water recedes elsewhere in the county, residents in Fox Lake, Lincolnshire, Gurnee and other towns along the Des Plaines and Fox rivers could experience record-setting flooding over the next couple of days.
The National Weather Service predicts the Des Plaines River in Gurnee will reach a record 5 feet over flood level by 5 a.m. Saturday.
The river is expected to exceed 17 feet downstream in Lincolnshire by Saturday evening -- also about 5 feet above flood stage.
Likewise, Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials predict the Chain O' Lakes will crest at more than 8 feet, about 3 inches higher than levels reached during major floods of 2008 and 2013.
The Fox River in New Munster, Wisconsin, had already reached a record height of 6 feet over flood stage Thursday morning, and it's expected to climb another 18 inches before leveling off about 6 a.m. today.
And all that water is slowly making its way south to the Chain O' Lakes.
Fox Waterway Agency Executive Director Joseph Keller said people should "be prepared for the worst." He urged boat owners to pull their vessels from the water and indicated the lakes likely would close for all boating by Friday afternoon.
Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor has already sent a disaster proclamation to Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
Near Gurnee, floodwaters washed out a large culvert under Gages Lake Road, collapsing the roadway just east of Leonard Drive and leaving a large hole in its place. The road will remain closed until the culvert is replaced and the pavement is repaired.
Two business owners stood on Old Grand Avenue near Viking Elementary School in Gurnee Thursday afternoon to survey the creeping waters. Barbara J. Swanson, a real estate attorney, and Brad Jenks, of Star Capital Management, run their businesses from converted homes in the water's path.
They'd sent their employees home but were trying to conduct business as normally as they could.
"The financial world doesn't stop just because Gurnee is flooding," Jenks said.
A lifelong Gurnee resident, Swanson joked she'd been through four or five "hundred-year floods" in her time.
"We'll be all right with our sump pumps as long as we don't lose power," Swanson said. "If it gets shut off, I don't know what we'll do."
Gurnee police are using drones to track the water's rise.
"We'll use the photos to better forecast how much further the flood is going to go," crime prevention technician Tom Agos said. "We'll be out here every day tracking it."
Lincolnshire's public works headquarters on Schelter Road was a sandbag manufacturing center Thursday as streets, yards and basements filled with water from the nearby Des Plaines River. With 75 tons of sand on hand, crews had made about 900 bags by Thursday afternoon, officials said.
Lincolnshire resident Tony Muzik was among the people picking up sandbags. He was trying to protect a small ComEd transformer that helped supply power to his neighborhood just east of the river.
Muzik said he was worried about elderly neighbors losing their electricity.
"Water's already halfway up the side," Muzik said. "We're going to do what we can."
Elsewhere in the village, water was rising outside the Lincolnshire Club, a private tennis and fitness facility near the river. The club's parking lot quickly filled with water Thursday morning, stranding a club van.
But the club itself remained open. Some people played on outdoor courts and kids enrolled in a summer tennis camp practiced indoors.
Several Lincolnshire streets were impassible, including Oxford Drive south of Route 22 and a stretch of Lincolshire Drive.
So was Marriott Drive, the entrance to the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort. The resort was evacuated Wednesday and likely won't reopen until next week, an employee said.
Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit issued a statement late Thursday telling residents to prepare for "a historic flood."
"The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is unable to fully forecast the extent of the flooding because water levels north of us in Wisconsin have never been this high," he wrote.
Evacuation plans are in place, Schmit wrote, and sandbags are available at the village's public works facility.
"At times like this, our community truly comes together to help each other," Schmit said.
Libertyville and Mundelein officials declared a state of disaster as the first step in applying for federal reimbursement for flood-related expenses.
Residents were instructed to place flood-damaged items at the curb. The villages are working with its waste hauling companies for a special pickup next week.
Libertyville Trustee Scott Adams was among those affected by flooding.
"The storm sewers are maxed out," said Adams, who had 2 feet of water in his basement. "My pumps couldn't keep up with the water coming through the floor drains."
The American Red Cross opened flood relief centers in Grayslake, Round Lake and North Chicago. They offer food, bottled water, cleaning supplies, clothing, lodging and other services.
About 30 people visited the center at Round Lake's Magee Middle School on Thursday. Among them was lifelong Round Lake Park resident Cora Michaels, who had so much water in her ranch home on Greenwood Drive it reached halfway up the refrigerator door before it began receding.
"I've lived there for 30 years," Michaels said. "It flooded up to my driveway before, (but) this is the first time it's ever flooded my house. It's unbelievable."
As he built his backyard wall in Fox Lake, Fulk said the 2013 flood caused about $42,000 in damage to his home. He expects it to be worse this time.
"I used 11 pallets of sandbags around my house in 2013 to keep the water out then," he said. "I don't think the village is prepared for the flooding that's coming our way."
• Daily Herald staff writers Lee Filas, Doug T. Graham and Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.