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Rahm defends his absence during last week's flood emergency

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday he felt comfortable being in Washington D.C. during last week's flood disaster because he has a team in place that handled the emergency just fine.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley almost always presided over severe weather news conferences at the city's 911 emergency center, well aware that City Hall's inadequate response to the Blizzard of `79 buried then-Mayor Michael Bilandic.

The fact that Emanuel was nowhere to be found at a time when more than 1,200 Chicagoans had flooded basements, a South Side sink hole had swallowed three cars and the Chicago River was overflowing its banks again at Albany Park raised more than a few eyebrows.

But, Emanuel said Monday he was in constant touch with his public safety team back in Chicago. And the mayor said he had the confidence in the team he chose to leave Chicago to attend an immigration forum in Washington and make an appearance the following day with his political mentor, former President Bill Clinton.

"First of all, I was in touch, as Charles [Williams, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner] notes, 2, 3 in the morning. I'm sure he really appreciated it, as did Gery Schenkel," executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, Emanuel said.

"I had the team in place to handle that. I was in touch while I was gone and I had a scheduled event with President Clinton and a scheduled meeting with President Obama and other things. As long as I was comfortable with the response, we had the response in place. And as soon as I came back, I visited the people in Albany Park and we responded by Sunday with the type of investment that's necessary so a neighborhood like Albany Park that has been affected by once-in-a-century flooding twice in five years... will finally [have] the answer to that problem."

On Sunday, the mayor announced construction of a $55 million underground pipeline he claimed would avert future flooding in Albany Park.

The one-mile tunnel underneath Foster Avenue will go east from Eugene Field Park to the North Shore Channel. Construction of the Northwest Side pipeline may begin as early as the beginning of next year.

In the event of a flood, the pipeline would move excess water from the north branch of the Chicago River into the North Shore Channel, a drainage canal that runs from the Chicago River north to Wilmette in Lake Michigan, officials said.


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