After the federal government declared Cook County a major emergency disaster area earlier this month, Austin resident Rowan Morrow, whose basement flooded, said he vacillated between gratitude and frustration.
“I feel mixed emotions, to be honest with you,” he said. “Number one, I think it should’ve been declared earlier [than] at the 40-day mark. Number two, it’s good that people are getting some type of relief, and something is better than nothing, but then again, we’re looking at the long haul, and we’re hoping that FEMA assistance will take care of the majority of the people’s needs.”
The torrential downpours from June 29 to July 2 led to water pooling inside buildings, as sewers, unable to contain such volumes of liquid, overflowed, authorities said. The magnitude of damage across Illinois was so great that President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared Cook County a major disaster area in mid-August. This opened up federal assistance for those impacted by the historic flooding.
Under the declaration, Cook County residents are eligible for resources through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including grants for temporary housing and home repairs, as well as low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses due to flooding.
Those who experienced damage as a result of the flooding – residents, businessowners and nonprofit leaders – can apply for FEMA assistance online at www.disasterassistance.gov, through the FEMA mobile app or by calling the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362. FEMA’s Disaster Survivor Assistance teams, which include housing inspectors, are also going door to door to help individuals navigate the assistance application process, make referrals to other agencies for additional support and identify and address urgent and developing needs. They will be stopping by homes, businesses and nonprofits.
Residents should beware of con artists and remember that FEMA, state and federal agencies and disaster workers will never ask for money or require payment, authorities said. FEMA officials warned Cook County residents of the potential for fraudulent activity, which typically increases in the aftermath of a disaster.
FEMA officials said to avoid falling prey to a scam, always ask for identification as FEMA personnel always carry official badges. A FEMA shirt or jacket does not necessarily mean the person wearing it is an official agency member, they said. FEMA inspectors will already have individual’s application number. If you are unsure of the credibility of the inspector, contact the FEMA Helpline to verify the legitimacy of the call or visit.
The most severe flood impacts reported in July to the National Weather Service came as a result of the July 2 storm. The total estimated rainfall amounts from that storm range from 2-9 inches in the western part of Chicago and its immediate western suburbs, according to the National Weather Service. Some of the most widespread basement flooding occurred in parts of Chicago’s Austin neighborhood and the suburbs Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero.
The July 2 rainfall was an extremely rare event; there is a 1% chance for any one person to receive 9 inches of rainfall within a 12-hour period in central Cook County during any given year, according to W. Scott Lincoln, senior service hydrologist and cartographer in the NWS Chicago Forecast office.
“The heavy rainfall was associated with a slow-moving area of low pressure that moved across northern Illinois during a period of very high atmospheric moisture content,” said Lincoln.
“Bands of heavy rainfall wrapped around the area of low pressure and some locations were impacted by multiple bands of rainfall. The locations that happened to have the longest duration of time underneath heavy rainfall bands ended up with the highest storm total rainfall amounts, and, unfortunately, some of the worst flooding.”
According to Lincoln, the July 2 rains brought 2 to 9 inches in the western parts of Chicago and the immediate western suburbs. For the Austin community area of Chicago and nearby Cicero, estimated rainfall ranged from 6-9 inches. For Oak Park, estimated rainfall ranged from 5-8 inches. For River Forest, estimated rainfall ranged from 4-6 inches. For Forest Park, estimated rainfall ranged from 4-7 inches. In Riverside, estimated rainfall ranged from 5-8 inches, while for Brookfield, estimated rainfall ranged from 4-6 inches.
The Village of Oak Park got off easier than others as none of its public buildings were damaged by the flooding. While the village has made an effort over the last few years to replace and renovate sewers across the village, it is impossible to pinpoint a factor or factors that could have led to some areas sustaining more damage than others, according to Oak Park spokesperson Dan Yopchick.
“We know that many members of our community were personally impacted and we’re doing everything we can to help mitigate those issues,” Yopchick said.
Across the border in Austin, the damage was shocking.
Andrea Cheng, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Water Management, told WTTW earlier this month that her department received at least 8,000 reports of streets and basements flooding. At least 1,900 came from the 37th Ward alone, she said.
The storm stalled over the area, she and other authorities said, contributing to the significant flooding.
Problems persist, residents said. Morrow, for example, said that since the July 2 flood, his basement got flooded two more times – and he wants to know what the city and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District are doing about it.
“My basement has been flooded for the third time, and we’ve got to call the plumber in order to get the water out, and that’s sewage,” he said.