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Rivers still rising in some spots; worst might be yet to come

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Updated: May 21, 2013 6:20AM

As homeowners across the Chicago area ripped out sopping carpets and pumped out flooded basements Friday, Gov. Pat Quinn offered this warning: The worst might be yet to come.

The Des Plaines River continued to rise in the Lemont area, and the National Weather Service didn’t expect a crest of 14 feet — four feet above flood stage — until midday Saturday. Flood warnings were extended for the entire Chicago area until 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

“We have to pay attention to the rising, flooding rivers of our state,” Quinn said at the Bellwood Village Hall Friday morning.

Homes were evacuated in Channahon and Minooka on Friday morning because of continued flooding.

In Channahon, concerns about a possible break in a dam along the Illinois & Michigan Canal led to a voluntary evacuation of more than 40 homes along the waterway, said Mayor Joe Cook.

Rising water along the canal also created problems in Minooka, where more than 30 homes were being evacuated in an area along Cemetery Road since 4:30 a.m., said Ken Briley, director of the village’s Emergency Management Agency.

I&M Canal flooding also was the cause of a rare shutdown of Interstate 55 between Interstate 80 and Route 6 on Friday. The narrow canal, which runs as far north as Cook County, takes in storm water as it moves south, which has led to the flooding in Channahon and Minooka.

Late Thursday, Quinn declared 38 counties state disaster areas, which will speed state aid and allow the state to formally pursue federal relief and support. He urged residents to photograph or video damage to assist in aid applications.

Quinn began a Friday tour of affected areas in Bellwood, where he saw the soaked couches, tables and chairs Sheila Simon found floating in her basement after torrential rains that dumped up to 5½ inches of rain on some area.

Simon, a nurse a Hines Veteran Hospital who recently beat her second bout of breast cancer, surveyed her ruined furnace and new freezer, still in its box.

“I’m just so overwhelmed,” Simon said. “I just don’t need this right now.”

The Bishop Ford Expressway remained overwhelmed Friday morning, as well, still closed from the merger with the Dan Ryan, down to 147th Street, state police said. In downtown Naperville, the bridges that span the swollen West Branch of the DuPage River — at Eagle, Washington, Main and Jefferson — also remained closed Friday morning, with the waterway still at flood levels.

Chicago Police reported no major flooding-related road closures.

The deluge flooded at least 1,200 Chicago basements and thousands of suburban homes.

Officials from Lombard, Schiller Park, Elmhurst, River Grove, Gurnee, Villa Park and Des Plaines said their towns were swamped with flooded streets and advised residents to stay home and visitors to stay out.

On the North Side, the Chicago River rose by roughly six feet, forcing the Water Reclamation District to open the locks and reverse the flow of water back toward Lake Michigan.

In Albany Park, the river was a foot over flood stage, filling basements for up to a block south of the river’s bank in several places.

The Edens Expressway, sections of the Eisenhower Expressway and other highways were shut down by flooding but by afternoon, all expressways except the Bishop Ford had been reopened.

And on the far Southeast Side, a large sinkhole swallowed several cars and one person was injured.

But the suburbs got the worst of it.

When he saw the dream house he’d already put a deposit on partially submerged in rainwater Thursday, Joe Stoffey began to swear under his breath. “Why is this happening?” he thought.

His girlfriend, Chrissy Wild, began to cry.

The for sale sign in front of the two-and-a-half-story New Lenox home was submerged up to the Realtor’s name. A small lake prevented the couple from checking the damage. So they left and returned with an inflatable kiddie pool and two cedar planks. A boat and oars.

They floated their makeshift vessel to the front doorstep, not knowing what to expect.

The owner, a man who’d sent his pregnant wife to higher ground hours earlier and was stranded at the home, came outside.

“Hello. We’re not crazy. We’re just checking on you, and we’re buying the house from you,” said Wild, 30, who’s training to be a nurse.

“He welcomed us onto the deck and he offered us a beer and we talked to him for a little bit,” said Stoffey, 30.

“The garage and first floor had flooded. But he said they’re going to make sure everything’s cleaned up and taken care of before the closing,” continued Stoffey, an oil refinery worker.

In west suburban Westchester, about 3,500 homes near Salt Creek were “submerged,” said Mayor Sam Pulia, comparing the storm to the one that caused similar damage there in 2010.

“It’s deja vu,” said Pulia. “Someone maybe got four feet instead of six feet in their basement, but what’s the difference? It’s still ruined.”

Further west, in Glen Ellyn, Lake Ellyn overflowed its northern bank, spilling water down Grand Avenue and Lake Road toward the homes below.

“It’s higher than I’ve ever seen it,” said Erin O’Connor, a 26-year resident. “They call it a hundred-year flood, but they’ve had five of these since we’ve been here.”

The Glen Ellyn Library announced that it would remain closed until April 29 because of flooding.

In Elmhurst, a block of houses on Spring Road near Salt Creek was swamped, while others nearby suffered at least some water damage.

Kristin Wilmot said her home on the street received just enough seepage to ruin her basement carpeting, but she was grateful the damage wasn’t worse.

“We’re very blessed,” said Wilmot, as she surveyed the flooded street from her waterlogged front lawn. “We watched some people down the street leave in boats.”

Boats were also used in Lisle to evacuate several hundred residents from The Towers of Four Lakes Village high-rise development after water knocked out the buildings’ electricity. “This is the worst I’ve seen the flooding,” said Mayor Joe Broda, who’s lived in the suburb for 35 years.

About 75 residents were taken to Benedictine University, which established an emergency shelter. The flooding affected at least “50 to 100” homes in Lisle, Broda said.

In south suburban Robbins, firefighters dragged an inflatable boat carrying a pregnant woman who was rescued along with five others from a flooded home. Twenty people were rescued from a three-block flooded zone.

In the near-western suburb of River Forest, about 50 volunteers helped village workers pile sandbags to protect the intersection of Chicago and Thatcher. Mark Janopoulos, River Forest’s superintendent of public works, said the water was expected to crest more than a foot above its all-time high.

Residents in downtown Geneva were piling up sandbags along the swelling Fox River.

And back in New Lenox, Stoffey and Wild, after some soul searching, said they will go ahead with the purchase of their flooded home. “We still want it. We still love it. The good things in life are worth fighting for,” said Wild.

And when they move in, they plan to put a framed picture of Friday’s Sun-Times cover on the wall of their new house.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Jon Seidel, Frank Main, Dave McKinney, Allison Horton, Brian Slodysko and Sam Charles

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