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Massive emergency response under way in Morris

Flooding makes travel difficult, spurs sandbagging efforts

Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 2:14 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, April 19, 2013 9:32 a.m. CST
Caption
(Herald Photo by T.G. Smith)
Anthony Mason, left, and Alexander Englehardt make their way through the waist-deep water that surrounded Morris Hospital around lunchtime Thursday. Emergency responders were staging throughout the day for the possible evacuation of the hospital, which was undertaken Thursday afternoon in under four hours.

Water is receding in some flooded locations, but the Illinois River is still rising and is expected to crest late Friday afternoon.

“We are still very concerned with the rising of the river,” said Morris Police Chief Brent Dite Thursday from the Emergency Operations Center set up inside the Grundy County Administration Center.

As of 3:45 p.m. Thursday the river was at 20.08 feet. The record is 24.8 feet, said Jim Lutz, director of the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency. The river is projected to crest at 25.5 feet late Friday afternoon.

By 8 a.m. Thursday, Morris had received 3.88 inches of rain in 24 hours.

“We formulate a plan of attack and by the time we get it formulated, there is a different animal to fight,” said Lutz on the day’s events. “It’s a rolling event that we’re trying to get a handle on.”

The EOC was opened Thursday morning and is expected to stay open Friday, said Dite.

Fortunately there have been no reports of loss of life, but emergency responders have made rescues from residences and submerged vehicles, said Dite.

The major evacuations were done at Morris Hospital, Ravine Woods Apartments and at Tudor Park Apartments.

Boat units had been brought in from numerous area agencies to assist with evacuations.

“The majority of the evacuations by fire and police were done in the morning hours and early afternoon,” said Dite in the early evening.

“Fortunately there have been no big power outages, which has been huge in helping things to go smoother,” he continued.

How many agencies have been assisting in the Morris area could not be confirmed as of deadline, but in addition to Morris, responders had been seen from Grundy County, Minooka, Coal City, Braidwood, Lisbon, Will County and state police.

Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes could not be reached for comment before press time.

“We don’t look forward to things like this, but it’s another great example of many agencies working together for the common good,” said Dite. “It’s typical Grundy County response, everyone chipping in where they can.”

One of the early evacuations was of Praireland Kids Daycare and Learning Center off Bedford Road. When some staff arrived at about 9 a.m., Nettle Creek was high, but it had not overflowed yet, said staff member Caira Andrjeski.

But 20 minutes later, it was coming into the daycare center doors, she said as she walked hand-in-hand with a little girl she brought to sit in her car parked down the street from the daycare. The daycare lot was completely flooded with water.

“It’s flooded. There is probably a foot of water inside,” said Andrjeski.

About 30 kids were at the daycare center at the time, one as young as 4 months, said owner Jackie Nusbaumer. Parents began being contacted to pick up their children right away and the Morris Fire Department showed up to help evacuate. All of the children are safe.

Nusbaumer said in the 13 years she has had her business, the daycare has never flooded. In the 2008 flood, the creek flooded over, but not into the building.

The house across the parking lot from the daycare, 523 Bedford Road, was surrounded by water since the creek runs directly behind it. Owner Gary Watland has lived in the house for 39 years and has had water issues before, but he said it was never this bad until the bridge over the creek was constructed about six years ago.

Although his yard and cars had been submerged, Watland said he was able to move his vehicles and the inside of his home had remained dry as of late morning.

“It’s a miracle, but in the garage I do (have water),” he said. “The house is taller than the garage.”

“I’ve just been praying, praying to God to make it quit raining and he did,” said Watland. In the late morning, the rain stopped for awhile, but started again in the afternoon.

Emergency officials still advise people to stay off the roads if possible and not to drive through standing water. Thursday morning and afternoon, responders were having to take different routes due to road closures and, with so many people on the roads, they were having trouble.

“I can’t stress enough to stay off the roadways. We have all kinds of (emergency responders) coming from other areas and they’re having a hard time getting where they need to be,” said Dite.

By the end of day Thursday, some roads had opened back up, but many were still closed. Mayor Richard Kopczick said at one point the Fremont Avenue and Jefferson Street bridge was the only bridge in the city not flooded.

The city was providing residents with sand and sandbags through 11 p.m. Thursday at the Municipal Services Facility. Residents just had to bring a shovel to fill their own bags. Kopczick said the city would continue to provide them Friday if needed. For information, call (815) 942-0103.

Shelters around the county were also opened for those being forced out of their homes. They were at Minooka High School Central Campus, Coal City High School and Shabbona Middle School.

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