Had enough misery? Floods could be followed by mosquitoes, heat, more rain
If the flooding weren't enough, consider what's coming in the days ahead: heat and humidity, an avalanche of mosquitoes, and, what else -- more rain.
While waiting for water levels to recede, communities along the Fox and Des Plaines rivers could face temperatures in the lower 90s plus possibly another inch or two of rain. Also looming is an uptick in this summer's bumper crop of mosquitoes from the abundance of standing water.
Also, health care professionals warn of potential health risks associated with wading through floodwater and hauling heavy objects out of houses.
Roughly 6,800 buildings in Lake County and another 800 in McHenry County were affected by the flooding, and many remain underwater, authorities said. Cleanup efforts have begun along the Des Plaines River, which crested at a record 12.09 feet just after midnight Sunday.
After rising gradually for nearly a week, the Fox River crested at under 12.4 feet Tuesday, leaving communities such as Algonquin breathing a sigh of relief. But with weather reports calling for more storms this week and flood levels not expected to drop for several days, Village President John Schmitt says river communities aren't out of the woods just yet.
"We're at the mercy of Mother Nature," he said.
All the standing water is likely to mean more mosquitoes and increased risk for the West Nile virus, said George Balis, regional manager for Clarke, a St. Charles-based mosquito control company monitoring its population in many of the affected areas.
"Anywhere water remains, mosquitoes can breed in," he said. "When water stays on top of the surface, that can lead to what we call floodwater mosquitoes. And that is what we are anticipating in the next week."
The Culex mosquito -- the type that carries the potentially deadly West Nile -- requires hot weather and stagnant water to breed, Kane County Health Department spokesman Tom Schlueter said. The longer floodwater sits, the more likely it is to serve as a breeding ground.
"Then, we have an extended period of warm weather, and that water becomes warm and stagnant," he said. "Those Culex mosquitoes love that stuff."
Balis said residents of the flooded areas will have an onslaught of mosquitoes not seen since 2010. And while it seems redundant to tell flood victims to get rid of as much standing water as possible, Balis said that's the only way to keep the mosquito population down. Emptying bowls, planters, bird feeders, gutters and outdoor toys that took on water is a small effort that can go a long way.
The sheer number of mosquitoes, and relative lack of resting places for them because of the water, will also create more mosquito activity at times of the day people may not be accustomed to, Balis said. He and Schlueter emphasized the importance of using mosquito repellents and wearing long sleeves, particularly if West Nile starts appearing.
Balis said Lake County, where some of the most severe flooding hit, has yet to see any mosquito traps test positive for the virus. Two batches have tested positive in Kane County, Schlueter said.
Though area hospitals haven't reported any significant casualties, patients have visited Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville with minor flooding-related injuries and illnesses, said Dr. John Piotrowski, medical director and chairman of emergency medicine.
Some residents walked into flooded basements without turning off their electricity; others crashed their cars by driving through standing water on roadways, he said. Later, during cleanup efforts, such injuries as bruises, strains and cuts often result from carrying heavy items and walking through floodwater.
Additionally, Piotrowski said, heat-related illnesses can occur when trying to stack sandbags or clean out homes in hot weather. "Don't overexert yourself," he said.
Amid last week's catastrophic flooding, he said, Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital had to evacuate all its patients, many of whom were taken to Condell or Northshore Highland Park Hospital. Condell was at full capacity -- 273 beds -- for several days.
"It was challenging. It was all hands on deck," he said. "We're fortunate we didn't see any major (food-related) injuries."
The cleanup will be the biggest hassle for riverfront property owners such as Nick Gagliano, who has to wade through water to get to his Algonquin home on Winaki Trail. Having lived next to the river for 31 years, however, he's used to the aftermath of severe flooding, which causes seepage in his basement and surrounds his house with water.
"The cleanup is the worst part," he said. "But this isn't our first rodeo."
With cleanup efforts ongoing and a potential for more rain on the way, health experts warn residents to avoid direct contact with floodwater, which can contain illness and contaminate food and drinking water. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps should be reported to physicians.
Residents should also see a doctor and get a tetanus shot if floodwater comes in contact with open wounds, Schlueter said. Additionally, residents with private wells should have their wellheads are tested for contamination.
Cleanup kits containing a mop, broom, disinfectant, garbage bags, gloves, sponges and masks are available for affected residents from the American Red Cross. Several other organizations, such as disaster response nonprofit Team Rubicon, are assisting with relief efforts in flooded areas.
With disaster protocols in place and hundreds of volunteers helping affected residents, Mayor Schmitt says Algonquin's cleanup efforts may not be far off.
"At this point, we're in pretty good shape," he said. "All we can do is hope that Wisconsin and Fox Lake don't get more rain."
• Daily Herald staff writers James Fuller and Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.