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.

Flood cleaning tips from the US Environmental Protection Agency

  • When cleaning, wear the following:  an N-95 respirator (available in hardware stores); goggles, gloves, long pants, long sleeves, and boots or work shoes.
  • Be sure to clean and dry your house and everything in it.  Clean and thoroughly dry hard surfaces. Throw away anything that was wet with flood water and cannot be cleaned – this would include carpeting and upholstered items.
  • Flooding can also make the air in your home unhealthy. When things get wet for more than two days they usually become moldy. There may also be germs and bugs in your home after a flood If you use a portable generator, do it outdoors and far away from the building – this is necessary because the exhaust fumes from a portable generator can kill you in  minutes if you breathe them in.
  • Don’t let flood water touch your body – you should assume there is nasty stuff such as sewage in it.

What if there is sewage contamination in your home after flood waters recede?

First make sure you document any damage with FEMA, the Federal Emergency

Management Agency: 1-800-621-3362, as well as your insurance company.

How do I clean carpet or rugs?

If the carpet or rug cannot be thoroughly dried and cleaned, it should be discarded and replaced.

How should I clean up?

Prior to undertaking cleanup efforts, take proper precautions to limit your contact with flood waters:

  • Keep children and pets away from flood and sewage water.
  • Wear protective gear such as rubber gloves, boots, goggles, a
  • mask with an N-95 respirator (available at most hardware stores), long pants and long-sleeve shirts.
  • Protect all cuts and scrapes. Immediately wash and disinfect any wound that comes into contact with flood water.
  • Remove excess water, use active ventilation and run dehumidifiers whenever possible.
  • Discard upholstered furniture, mattresses or other soft or porous items that were wet with flood water and cannot be disinfected.
  • Affected non-porous surfaces should be washed with soap and water then cleaned with a mix of 1 cup of household
  • liquid bleach in 5 gallons of water. Use bleach that does not have an added scent (like lemon). Scrub rough surfaces with a stiff brush and air dry.
  • Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaners.
  • Paneling and wallboard must be immediately cleaned and dried thoroughly. If the damage is severe, it may be necessary to re move and replace the damaged sections.

After cleanup:

  • Wash your hands and body thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water with detergent and separate them from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
  • Disinfect boots, gloves and all cleaning items if you choose to re-use them.
  • When finished, disinfect your waterproof boots and gloves with a solution of one-half cup household bleach in one gallon of water. Rinse with clear water and allow boots and gloves to dry.

Saving Water-Damaged Photos

Most photos, negatives and color slides can be cleaned and air-dried using the following steps:

Carefully lift the photos from the dirty water. Remove photos from water-logged albums; separate any that are stacked together, being careful not to rub or touch the wet emulsion of the photo surface.


Gently rinse both sides of the photo in a bucket or sink of clear, cold water. Don’t rub the photos; change the water frequently.

If you have time and space, lay each wet photo face up on any clean blotting paper, such as a paper towel. Don’t use newspaper or printed paper towels, as ink may transfer to your wet photos. Change blotting paper every hour or two until the photos dry. Try to dry the photos inside if possible, as sun and wind will cause photos to curl more quickly.

If you don’t have time to dry your damaged photos, just rinse them to remove any debris. Carefully stack the wet photos between sheets of wax paper and seal them in a Ziploc type plastic bag. If possible, freeze photos to inhibit damage. This way photos can be defrosted, separated and air-dried later when you have  time to do it properly.

More Tips for Handling Water Damaged Photographs

  • Try to get to flood-damaged photos within two days or they will begin to mold or stick together, making saving them much more unlikely.
  •  Begin with photographs for which there are no negatives, or for which the negatives are also water damaged.
  • Photos in frames need to be saved when they are still soaking wet, otherwise the photo surface will stick to the glass as it dries and you will not be able to separate them without damaging the photo emulsion. To remove a wet photo from a picture frame, keep the glass and photo together. Holding both, rinse with clear flowing water, using the water to gently separate photo from glass.
  • Some historical photographs are very sensitive to water damage and may not be recoverable. Older photographs should  not be frozen without first consulting a professional conservator. You may also want to send any damaged heirloom photos to a professional photo restorer after drying.

Compiled by Amy Malina

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