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Rising river prompts need for early-morning rescues

Heavy equipment employed on Cemetery Road

Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 9:16 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, April 19, 2013 8:48 p.m. CST
Caption
(Peggy Hanna Photo for the Morris Daily Herald)
With the floodwater having risen rapidly in the parking lot and around the buildings at Ravine Woods Apartments in Morris, emergency responders had to turn to boats as the only means to assist residents in getting out of their apartments to dry ground on Thursday afternoon. Additional rescues of residents were required along Cemetery Road early Friday as the Illinois River continued to rise.

Emergency responders worked for almost 10 hours at Cemetery Road Friday rescuing about 60 people whose homes were taken over by flooding.

In the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. Thursday, Morris received 3.88 inches of rain. Another .44 inches on Thursday into Friday pushed the total for the storm over four inches.

The heavy rains caused Nettle Creek and the Illinois River to overflow into city streets Thursday and into Friday.

Although water started to recede Thursday evening from the city center, the river continued to rise, ensuring first responders stayed on alert Friday.

Grundy County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Lutz said the river was expected to crest at about 3:45 p.m. Friday at about 25 feet.

As of 2:45 p.m. it was at 24.91 feet and, by 4:45 p.m. Friday, had receded .02 inches to 24.89 feet, according to National Weather Service. The record from the 2008 flood was 24.8 feet.

“We should be close to cresting on the river, which only means the water will keep going up and then just stay flat for six to eight hours before it starts going down,” said Lutz.

Throughout the day Friday responders were still conducting water rescues, but by 7:30 p.m. Thursday night, the Emergency Operating Center out of the Grundy County Administration Center had been down-graded to a level where it was just run by the emergency department’s staff and volunteers, said Lutz. They acted as a resource for the responders.

Chief Tracey Steffes of the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District said first responders had been on scene at Cemetery Road since about 4:30 a.m. Friday. Responders used heavy loading equipment with large tires to rescue people on Cemetery Road, he said.

A local farmer had also brought out a large tractor with rubber tires to assist.

“There were some people that wanted to stay within their residences even though the water does continue to rise,” he said.

“We did explain that a lot of resources were committed to the rescue effort and if conditions changed through the night, it might be a long time until we can get back out there.”

Some people were taken to a shelter in Minooka.

The Will County Command Van was on site, said Steffes. The van was used at Morris Hospital Thursday for the evacuation of patients and was moved to Cemetery Road at about 7 p.m. Thursday. MABAS 41 brought in its water rescue team to assist.

The Coast Guard’s helicopter was called in as well, but it had a more-critical call come in and it was decided the other call was more important.

Steffes said they reassessed their tactics and did the rescue themselves, but it took longer. It was about 2:45 p.m. when the last responders were leaving Cemetery Road, according to the scanner.

Responders were also on Old Stage Road rescuing one person at Bell’s Landing Friday morning.

“Yesterday we knew historically what the water levels do and what property has been impacted,” said Steffes. The chief said because it was predicted the water levels would break the 2008 record of 24.8 feet, they had a good idea of what they would be facing Friday in areas such as Cemetery Road.

But Friday afternoon, the river had surpassed this historical mark putting the city in new territory, he said. The river has not passed 24.8 feet before and although it could only be a couple inches more, two to three inches could mean water getting passed a berm or onto a city street it has not reached before. People need to continue to be careful.

“We still have very, very hazardous and changing conditions,” he said.
TAPPING RESOURCES

Through Thursday’s events, Morris was already using all of its local resources from neighboring towns through MABAS 15, so Steffes said the Emergency Operations Center decided to go inter-divisional and called on other MABAS divisions to cover Morris overnight Thursday.

Emergency responders and equipment were brought in from Tinley Park and Bloomington-Normal to cover the town from 7 p.m. Thursday to 7 a.m. Friday so Morris responders could rest, said Steffes. About 18 to 20 firefighters were brought in from Tinley Park and another 18 to 20 from Bloomington-Normal.

“We had to go way outside our area for help because we used everyone local,” Steffes said. Steffes described the amount and types of rescues done in the last couple of days as outstanding. Especially since there has been no loss of life nor major injury. But the property damage is extensive in the area.

“Yesterday was the type of day you train for,” said Steffes Friday.

In addition to the first responders’ hard work, the chief said he was impressed by the amount of volunteers and neighbors who stepped up to help at Morris Hospital and other locations.

This “terrible and tragic event,” Steffes said, has brought out not only this community’s volunteerism and camaraderie, but also from other communities, some more than an hour away giving their time to help Morris.

Friday, the fire department had tripled its staffing levels in preparation of the river continuing to rise.

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