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Steffes ‘ecstatic’ about response

Four inches of rain, 75 rescues, 36 agencies, 30 hours, 0 lives lost

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 8:44 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Peggy Hanna Photo for the Morris Daily Herald)
Because of lessons learned during the 2008 flood, Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District Chief Tracey Steffes said, emergency responders were prepared to evacuate Ravine Woods Apartments. That evacuation, he said, went smoother and faster this time around.

Rescue efforts have turned to clean-up duties now that water has receded from last week’s flood.

“I’m ecstatic on how things went,” said Tracey Steffes, Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District chief. “Chief (Bob) Wills, myself and the Board of Trustees are just pleased on how the men and women of this fire district carried themselves and performed their jobs.”

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 amount of rain in such a short time Thursday caused the Illinois River and the area creeks to flood into city streets, filling some people’s homes with water and stranding many in their houses and cars.

The river crested late Friday afternoon at 24.91 feet, surpassing the 2008 record of 24.8, but not quite making the predicted 25 feet.

Emergency responders made about 75 rescues Thursday and into Friday, said Steffes.

“For the nature of the event, as big as it was, we are very pleased nobody was hurt,” he said. “We’re lucky we did not have a few deaths.”

No loss of life has been reported due to the flooding.

Of the 75 rescues, 60 people were rescued from Cemetery Road in Morris from about 4:30 a.m. Friday to about 2 p.m.

Steffes said the circumstances of Thursday and Friday’s rescues are unlike what most firefighters are used to. With a house fire, for example, there are rescues and fire suppression to perform, but within a couple of hours these situations are handled and firefighters are getting their fire equipment ready for the next call.

“We started Thursday morning and it continued through Friday afternoon,” said Steffes. “It was a long duration and there was no down time. They would pack up on one and have one or two waiting.”

“We had people here responding to water emergencies that had problems at their own house and they were here helping people,” he continued.

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.

Overall, Morris had 35 other agencies assisting them in rescues and emergencies, said Steffes. The farthest department came from Bloomington-Normal.

THE AFTERMATH

By Saturday, the need for rescues had ceased and firefighters spent their time cleaning up firefighting equipment and getting things back in service shape for the next call. Sunday, responders took time to check on the status of Morris Hospital, which is still not admitting patients.

Monday began damage assessment, said Steffes. This has to be done to see if the area is going to be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

“This will be an all-week process,” said Steffes.

Grundy County has been declared a disaster area by Governor Pat Quinn, said Morris Police Chief Brent Dite in a press release sent Tuesday. The assessment of damage is currently under way by local officials, as well as by officials from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and FEMA.

Dite said the city is in the process of acquiring information so the required paperwork can be completed to verify Morris residents meet the criteria for funding assistance.

Residents looking for assistance will need to provide the following information: address, type of structure (single family, duplex, apartment, mobile home, business); whether you rent or own the property; depth of water in basement; depth of water on first floor; is the basement considered an essential living area; do you have insurance (if yes the details will need to be provided;) do you have structural damage; and any additional comments.

People who have a home or business that is damaged from flooding are asked to call Morris Fire Marshall/ESDA Liaison Robert Coleman at (815) 942-0103, ext. 8.

PAST EXPERIENCE

The 2008 flood helped to prepare the city for last week’s flood as far as knowing what areas of Morris the water would reach. For instance, emergency responders were prepared to evacuate Ravine Woods Apartments because it flooded in 2008.

That evacuation went a lot smoother and faster this time, said Steffes.

Also in 2008, the former Grundy County Home nursing home had to be evacuated. Although that nursing home no longer exists, that evacuation prepared the response command on how to evacuate Morris Hospital of its patients.

They knew how many extra ambulances were going to be needed, as well as how much extra manpower, to safely transport patients out of the hospital.

Coleman and fire chiefs from Minooka, Channahon, Troy and Elwood departments ran the command center at the hospital, while Steffes ran the fire end of the EOC.

The biggest difference about this flood from 2008 was that the water rose so much more rapidly this time.

“You could see the water levels changing almost by the minute,” he said. “What streets were passable five minutes ago were not passable anymore.”

When the weather service issues a flash flood warning, often people don’t take it seriously, but Steffes hopes they will now.

“We had bridges in town overtopped with water that have never been before,” he said.

At one point the city only had one bridge in town that didn’t have water on it.

With water taking over bridges and streets, many tried to drive through the water and lost control of their vehicles, resulting in people being trapped in their vehicles.

Steffes described one rescue on Airport Road, by Middle Road, as “phenomenal.”

Morris responders and the Minooka rapid water team responded to the call where a car was washed away by 6 to 8 feet of torrent water at a creek.

“The driver was out of the car holding on to a wood fence,” said Steffes.

Responders tied themselves to their heavy duty rescue truck and went into the water to put a life vest on the driver. He was pulled back to safety by the responders.

Another astounding rescue was at two homes on Sawmill Lane.

“There was white water rapids around the houses there,” said Steffes.

At one home was an older man and, in the other, a husband and wife and some animals. The white water rescue team tried to reach them and couldn’t. A helicopter was called, but unable to respond. So Illinois Truck and Equipment brought out men and a front end loader to reach the people.

A front end loader and sand brought in from the sandpit on Cemetery Road were also brought in to help create the dike at Morris Hospital.

Such equipment, plus a four-wheel-drive tractor from Seggebruch’s Farm, was used for rescues at Cemetery Road forging 6 to 7 feet of water. A helicopter was originally called for assistance on Cemetery, but was redirected to a more urgent call.

“I am extremely pleased with the outpouring of volunteerism and camaraderie of the citizens,” said Steffes. “They responded the moment they needed to.”

Although the immediate danger appears to be over, Steffes warns people still need to be careful as they clean-up. There is still standing water in the area so people need to be careful where they walk and to keep cuts clear of the flood water.

As people clean up their homes, he advises they use bleach to sanitize and make sure everything is dry. If you leave a carpet or drywall wet too long, mold will form so replace when needed and use fans to dry.

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