Rauner declares emergency as river towns brace for more flood trouble
Two days after torrential rainstorms left roads and neighborhoods flooded, communities along the Des Plaines and Fox rivers and Chain O' Lakes braced for swollen rivers to reach their dreaded crests at what are expected to be record levels.
Gurnee and Lincolnshire are in the crosshairs Saturday, followed by Des Plaines and River Forest a day later. Meanwhile, some subdivisions along the Chain are slowly being swamped. Communities downstream on the Fox will see that river crest next week.
Officials with the Lake County Emergency Management Agency project more than 5,800 structures in the county will be flooded.
Gov. Bruce Rauner toured the Gurnee flood zone Friday morning and said he wasn't ready to declare a state of emergency. He reversed course around 5 p.m. and issued a disaster proclamation for Lake, McHenry and Kane counties to ensure continued state support for flood-weary communities. He also directed Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director James Joseph to activate the State Emergency Operations Center this weekend and into next week to coordinate requests for assistance.
He said he visited Gurnee to bring attention to those living near the river who may have to deal with flooding for several more days and to thank first responders.
"The first responders in Gurnee are awesome. The first responders in Libertyville, they've dealt with this," Rauner said while standing near a mountain of sandbags. "They have not even requested the state police to come and assist."
While immediate focus has been on the water inundating parts of Gurnee and other Des Plaines River communities, a second flooding front opened Friday to the northwest in some Fox Lake neighborhoods on the Chain O' Lakes.
By late morning, water had blocked access to the Knollwood Park subdivision and was threatening the nearby Kings Island subdivision. Portions of the Eagle Point subdivision also were flooded.
Steve Fulk, who lives on the 500 block of Park Avenue in Kings Island, wasn't waiting. He loaded furniture and other items into a rental truck to drive his belongings to safety.
"I'm trying to save some stuff before the water moves higher," he said. "The sump pump went out this morning, but it would be useless anyway. You can't stop this."
Fulk said water had crept 2 feet into his garage and was about to reach his front door. The sandbags he piled up Thursday did little to stop floodwater from reaching his house, he said.
"This area is awesome when the weather is great," he said. "But, when things change, it can get bad."
Hidden Point Bar and Grill on Lakeview Lane on Fox Lake was surrounded by water by 11 a.m.
But residents and business owners in Gurnee and Fox Lake weren't alone in their flood misery.
Drivers have had to make their way around road closures that have included Nippersink Road in Round Lake and portions of Route 41, Route 132 and O'Plaine Road in Gurnee. Gurnee officials said they've asked sandbagging volunteers to go to Wadsworth to battle floodwaters there. Roads were closed and some residents were forced to evacuate houses in Des Plaines neighborhoods near the river.
In Lincolnshire, the block Jadwiga Ozlanski lives on near the Des Plaines River is underwater. She's been using a canoe to get in and out of the area. She's even shuttled neighbors and their pets to and from their houses.
Ozlanski's Lincolnshire Drive house is on high ground and was dry as of Friday afternoon.
"My sump pump is working," she said.
Ozlanski has lived there nearly 13 years, and this is the second major flood she's witnessed. Will she continue living near the river?
"Ask me Sunday," she said.
Lake County officials prepared some residents for the possibility they might have to abandon their houses. Evacuation advisories were delivered to residents in the unincorporated North Libertyville Estates subdivision on Route 137 near the Des Plaines River. Evacuation is not anticipated for now because the levee there is still considered stable, officials said.
The state emergency declaration makes more resources available to people with flood damage, Lake County officials said. Some could receive low-interest loans to fix damages and, in rare cases, be eligible for a federal grant.
Rauner has faced some news media criticism for waiting two days to visit in Lake County, but Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik disagreed.
"The last thing we needed was the governor and his posse showing up," Kovarik said. "This was an intense 48 hours."
In Gurnee, resident Jim Oborny, who lives in a house in the flood's path, peppered Rauner with questions about why the state hasn't acted sooner to prevent this kind of flood damage.
"You can't just deal with it after it happens," Oborny told the governor. "I see my neighbors' houses being flooded."
Rauner was joined by Lake County Board Aaron Lawlor and Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director James Joseph, who promised the state would use every available resource to assist flood victims.
"Floods are Mother Nature telling you you've built too much in the wrong place," Lawlor said.
Rauner had surveyed flooding outside two houses owned by Gurnee resident Shawn Depke. The houses are on O'Plaine Road just south of Route 132, about 750 feet east of the Des Plaines River.
"I've seen 100-year floods five or six times," Depke said. "The only option is for Gurnee to buy all these houses. … But no one has the money to do it."
Lawlor said the county will continue to buy buildings and raze them to try to reduce future flood damage. He said the county used to spend $300,000 to sandbag and secure the former Gurnee Grade School building across from the river before it was finally torn down and replaced with open space. A new school was built outside the flood path.
But the thought of tearing down more buildings near the river saddens Daneli Oborny, Jim Oborny's wife, who said she'd worked so hard dealing with the floodwaters that she struggled to get out of bed Friday morning.
"What's going to happen to the neighborhood?" Daneli Oborny said. "We love this neighborhood and we can't just let it die out."
During his Gurnee news conference, Rauner noted there have been no flood-related deaths or significant injuries. "We are very blessed."
•Daily Herald staff writers Mick Zawislak and Russell Lissau contributed to this story.