After wreaking havoc on the morning commute, closing schools and prompting scattered evacuations, the massive storm that dumped upwards of a half-foot of rain on parts of the Chicago area overnight is expected to continue throughout the day, with flooding the big concern.
High waters already led to intermittent closures of most major expressways, but now officials throughout the city and suburbs are eyeing rapidly rising river levels along with drainage problems that are stranding motorists and blocking thoroughfares.
Gov. Pat Quinn has activated the State Incident Response Center in Springfield to speed up assistance to public safety officials in areas affected by the storm.
"I urge everyone to stay alert and avoid flooded areas," the governor said in a statement. "Residents should tune in to local TV and radio stations for updated information about any closed routes or evacuations."
Along with hundreds of school closures, a number of forest preserves were shut down due to flooding and the Brookfield Zoo closed its gates for only the third time in its history.
The Des Plaines River is expected to reach record levels in Des Plaines and Riverside, according to the National Weather Service, which said the river is already over its banks in many areas.
An alert from River Forest said the Des Plaines River was rising at a “very fast pace” and that some roads in the village are closed from flooding.
The River Forest Public Works team has sandbagged a “strategic area along River Oaks Drive to help protect residential areas from flood waters,” according to the village, and will be out this morning to reinforce and add to this berm in an effort to keep flood waters away from residential areas.
The Chain O'Lakes and Fox River have flowed over their banks, blocking roads and causing flooding has begun in Fox Lake.
Kent McKenzie, emergency management coordinator for Lake County, estimated that 500 to 1,000 homes at the Chain O’Lakes could be affected by the flooding.
“We’re expecting based on forecasts from the National Weather Service that we could approach or exceed major flood stages or even record flood stages at some locations,” McKenzie said at a press conference in Libertyville Thursday. “This is a very serious situation.”
McKenzie said the county’s public works department had sent nearly 200,000 sandbags to local municipalities and townships. He added that the county was trying to obtain additional sandbags from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
“The rate with which the river is rising on the Des Plaines is very rapid,” McKenzie said. “We saw rises of nearly 3 feet since last night at the Des Plaines River gauge at Route 120.”
Emergency responders have had to evacuate residents from homes due to flooding along the Fox River in South Elgin this morning, officials said.
"We are seeing a number of houses along the river with significant flooding," said Don Bryant, director of the Kane County Office of Emergency Management.
The Fox River was at 12 feet deep below the dam in Algonquin, more than two feet above flood stage, with another foot of rising water expected through Friday, Bryant said. That would make the effects comparable to widespread flooding in 2007.
In Elmhurst, Maureen McNicholas grabbed her two daughters and a couple of their friends to survey the water level in the Palmer Drive underpass, which the city floods to alleviate water overflow in other areas. The gray-brown water was about 20 feet deep.
"I've lived in Elmhurst my entire life and I've never seen it this high," said McNicholas, 51, who told her kids about the underpass being built when she was in high school.
Her house remained dry.
"I feel really bad for all those people whose homes have flooded," she said.
Naperville was providing sand and bags for residents in flooded areas. Taylor Erdman, 32, of Chicago, filled sand bags this morning for a tenant in the Spring Hill subdivision in Naperville who has a flooded basement.
“I’m just trying to stop the bleeding,” he said.
In Libertyville, Tom Barry unloaded sandbags from the back of his Jeep Cherokee as the rain continued to pour.
He carried them to the back of his house, where he stacked them on top of a 2-foot-tall stonewall that surrounds a patio that overlooks Lake Minear. At 10 a.m., the water’s edge had crept to within 40 feet of Barry’s house. A sump pump sat on the patio, ready to be turned on.
On the northeast side of the lake, water rushed over a berm that separates it from the Des Plaines River. Docks and retaining walls along the banks were submerged underneath the rising water.
“I’m surprised that it came up so fast,” said Barbara Barry, Tom’s wife. “But this is the third time this has happened. I think we’ve learned how to deal with it a little bit.”
Officials in Lake County reported that More than 100 roads were impassable.
In Hillside, the Oak Ridge Nursing Home in the 500 Block of North Wolf Road was being evacuated because of flooding, according to Hillside Police Chief Joe Lukaszek. He said more than 100 people were being moved out of the nursing home.
Several apartment buildings were also being evacuated along the 500 block of North Wolf Road and the 600 block of North Wolf Roads, Lukaszek said.
No injuries have been reported, though major roads like Mannheim, Wolf and Roosevelt were all flooded. "Every roadway is pretty much impassable," he said. "We're kind of like an island right now."
The Snow Valley Nursing Home in Lisle was being evacuated because of the rising East Branch of the DuPage River, and some other city residents had to be evacuated by boat.
Lombard Acting Village President Bill Ware declared the town a disaster area and advised residents not to travel because of the number of cars stalled in flooded streets.
Stretches of Roosevelt Road were flooded. Cars were stranded on exit ramps from York Road to Roosevelt Road and on Finley, Highland and Meyers roads.
Acting Elmhurst Mayor Scott Levin has also declared a state of emergency in the city. He cited flooding, severe sewage back-ups in homes, overwhelmed resources and emergency personnel staffing.
There were also more than 100 school closures throughout the Chicago area.
Commuters coming in from the suburbs felt the frustration of a longer morning commute due to various highway closures and delays due to the rain.
Tinley Park resident Tracy Gerber said her normal 45 minute commute up I-57 from the south suburb took twice as long today thanks to stop-and-go traffic and flooding.
"I tried to leave early today and I'm still late," said Gerber, rushing to her job at Northwestern from a Streeterville public parking garage. "I've now got to run to work."
Crestwood resident Tom Vicich said his commute wasn't pretty.
"Even getting to the expressway took way longer this morning -- maybe 25 minutes longer to the Dan Ryan," Vicich said.
As Metra saw delays that reached over 100 minutes in some cases, it's new multi-million-dollar Train Tracker system proved unreliable. The system had mythical trains running on time as commuters hunkered down beneath umbrellas with no indication of when the next train might come.
In Elmhurst, where public school classes were cancelled, the usually packed Metra station was sparsely populated with people waiting for erratically running Union Pacific West Line trains.
Due to switching problems, at least five trains were stacked up west of Ogilvie Transportation Center, where they waited their turn to pull in and drop off morning commuters, a conductor on one of the trains said.