April showers brought heartache April 18 to many Forest Parkers as an abrupt 6 – 8 inches of rain hit the area, swelled the Des Plaines River to its highest recorded level and sent local homeowners into déjà vu: were the 2010, 2011 floods happening all over again?
Extreme flooding closed bridges at Roosevelt Rd. and Madison Street in Forest Park, the cemeteries lining the Des Plaines filled with water, RiverEdge Hospital lined up sandbags to protect against the flood. Forest Park Elementary School District 91 cancelled class for Thursday, saying water had leaked into the basement of Betsy Ross and Proviso Township High School District 209 cancelled both Thursday and Friday, as many roads in Proviso Township were unnavigable.
Some Forest Park residents reported minimal damage, possibly because of preventative measures they took following a similar flooding episode in 2010 such as installing check valves and pumps. Other residents were not so fortunate. Nearly everyone agreed that flooding has not been a considerable issue in their homes until recent years.
Tim Flanagan, 59, of the 1400 block of Elgin, has lived in his house for 17 years. According to Flanagan, “we got a little water in the basement once about 16 years ago, then nothing until 2010. That was much worse because the power was out for days. We got 10 inches of water at the time. Didn’t lose any appliances, but lost books, rugs and furniture.” This time, Flanagan said, he got three to four inches of rain and no apparent sewage, just dirt and clear water. Even though the Flanagans took the precaution of refitting their basement with smaller rugs after the 2010 flood, they still lost those rugs in the recent deluge. According to Flanagan, “I was a little surprised at 7:30 [Thursday] morning, my wife called to say we had gotten no water. By 8 a.m., she told me water was coming up through the shower drain in the bathroom….” Flanagan and his family were able to haul the basement furnishings upstairs out of the water’s reach and by 6 p.m., his son and he had “already got the water out” and were mopping and bleaching the basement floor.
Sheila Janis, who moved into her home in Forest Park 15 years ago, was also surprised by the recent flooding issues. Janis said that flooding was “not really a problem until about 6 years ago.” Even at that time, the greatest extent of damage was a little water in the basement. With these huge rainfalls however such as the most recent one and the one in 2010, there have been devastating effects. Janis described it as being “scary” because the flooding is not just water but actual sewage filling up her basement. In 2010, Janis experienced about $8,000 worth of damages including a dryer, a microwave, and even wedding photos. She says that the flooding this time “wasn’t as bad as 3 years ago” however she is still evaluating the full extent of the damage. Thus far, she has been forced to throw out a lot of personal belongings and she is still waiting to see whether her water heater has survived the flood. Because Janis cannot afford to invest in a check valve, she has some people come to rout out her sewer line every year or so. This has become necessary more and more frequently of late.
In contrast, Pauline Woodson reported very little damage this time around when it came to flooding in her home. She said that there were “a couple of inches of seepage” but no lasting damage. Woodson attributes this to the system she had installed following the flood of 2010 which was partially funded by the village. She experienced about $15,000 of damage in 2010 but her new system saved Woodson and her family from dealing with such devastating effects this time around.
Forest Park Public Works Director John Doss said he woke up at 5:30 a.m. Thursday to a dry basement. By 7:30 a.m., he said: “I had six to eight inches of water. It’s frustrating. In 2010 we got water in the basement for the first time in 20 years. Now it’s happening again. This time I didn’t have as much furniture in the basement and I hope other people were able to prepare. We knew the rain was coming but it seems that when we pass six, seven or eight inches of rain, this is what happens.”
Doss and the Public Works crew spent the next two days dealing with the devastation in town. The 600 block of Elgin/Marengo had extreme flooding, Doss said. The village provided a Dumpster for residents of that block to discard their furniture, carpets and waterlogged possessions.
“Our sewers simply reached capacity,” Doss said. Doss met with Metropolitan Water Reclamation District officials Monday and was told the Deep Tunnel filled to capacity by midnight and that MWRD opened locks into the Chicago River around 2 a.m. Thursday.
“[The flooding of the Des Plaines] was much worse in Riverside, Brookfield and River Grove,” Doss said. “The cemeteries actually buffer us. But in Forest Park, the basements are an issue. The basements keep flooding. When you have that much rain, the basements act as storage, unfortunately.”
Nonetheless, Doss said, his impression riding the alleys of Forest Park was that the damage was less extensive than in July of 2010 and 2011. “I’m not seeing as much flood damaged stuff in the alleys this time,” Doss said.
“Forest Parkers Against Flooding” Facebook group — started in 2010 — lit up as residents exchanged tips and photos and discuss road closures as well as alternate routes to work. They also consoled other members for damage the floods inflicted.
“Residents are definitely sick of the flooding,” Doss said. “We have been doing general maintenance on the local sewers for the past four weeks, and are now cleaning up after the floods.”
“We tell any residents to put any garbage in the alley and it’ll be taken away, either by [Public Works] or Allied Waste,” Doss said.
As for Doss’ family, he said his sons have their bedroom in the basement. “Our house is too small otherwise, so we just vacuumed and shampooed the rugs and cleaned up.”
Jean Lotus contributed to this article.