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Storms, flooding close roads in River Grove

Kayakers floby abandoned cars flooded streets along River Road near GrAvenue River Grove Thursday April 18 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago

Kayakers float by abandoned cars and flooded streets along River Road near Grand Avenue in River Grove on Thursday, April 18, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: May 26, 2013 6:11AM

RIVER GROVE — Residents are still dealing with the aftermath of last week’s heavy rains that sparked flash floods in the area.

River Road became literally a river, as kayakers floated by an inundated Gene & Jude’s hot-dog stand.

Village officials had ordered residents to stay off the roads as several other routes also had been shut down, including parts of Grand Avenue. Motorists quickly found that trips that use to take just a few minutes sometimes stretched into hours as they dealt with multiple closings and detours.

The River Grove Police Department had reported that every on-duty patrolman, including the department’s highest-ranking officers, “are all on the street.”

Trying to head into Elmwood Park traveling north on Thatcher Avenue was impossible; that road was flooded and closed, with traffic diverted to the east or west.

Those trying to take side streets through Elmwood Park didn’t fare any better as more barricades awaited those drivers in many locations.

Businesses across the area will spend some time dealing with the aftermath.

Though The Bazaar, Inc., at 1900 N. Fifth Ave., in River Grove, avoided the worst of the flood damage, the heavy rainfall has already landed a powerful punch to the company’s bottom line.

“It’s been two inches in some areas and nothing in other areas,” said the company’s chief financial officer Tony Ligenza.

But the cost to remedy the physical damages will be small, compared to what the business stands to lose from local road closures and standstills on area expressways. Losses in sales and productivity can be expected as long as the flow of traffic remains interrupted, he said.

The Bazaar Inc. is a manufacturer wholesaler. It purchases overstocks, discontinued items, closeouts, and brand name products from manufacturers, and distributes merchandise to more than 8,000 independent discount and dollar stores across the country.

It has a 400,000-square-foot facility that includes a warehouse and a store, which is open to the public. Products come and go by truck, and trucks use roads — unless those roads are under water.

On most days, 25 freight trailer trucks file in an out of the company’s parking lot to fulfill large shipping orders. The day after the rains only one truck reached its destination.

“Trucks can’t get here to ship product if truckers can’t find how to get to you, ” Ligenza said.

Although several truck drivers called, hoping to find directions using side streets, instead of nearby expressways, employees — those who made it in — could not provide answers. Only half of the company’s employees were able to reach work.

One employee, Marcin Dvdzinski of the maintenance department, endured a six-hour commute from Elk Grove.

Ligenza, whose normal 30-minute commute lasted two hours, said that after lunch, all of The Bazaar’s employees were allowed to go home at any time with a full day’s pay.

It would come as no surprise to the people at the AAA Chicago Motor Club that the roads were tough to navigate.

The motor club had a very busy day helping stranded motorists last Thursday. April 18, the first day of major flooding.

Since 7 a.m., the number of calls from stranded and distressed motorists had been double their usual levels.

By noon, AAA Chicago had received about 850 calls for help.

Most of these calls have been from drivers with cars trapped by high water. Drivers who report being stranded in dangerous/potentially life-threatening situations are instantly whisked to the top of AAA’s rescue list. However, many of the situations being reported did not qualify as bona fide emergencies.

The average wait time for emergency response from AAA ranges from 15 minutes to an hour.

“We are prioritizing emergency situations first,” said Beth Mosher, an AAA Chicago spokeswoman. “If the car is under water and (the passengers) are fine, they should call us back” after the waters subside.

Mosher said her best advice for traveling in flooded conditions is to avoid getting behind the wheel. “Basically, don’t chance it,” she said.

For some drivers, this advice will hold true even after flood waters disappear. Mosher warns against starting any car that has been standing in water deep enough to reach the doors. Attempting to start a car that has been submerged can damage the engine, combustion chamber and other parts.

“Cars that have been under water need to be professionally dried-out before attempting to drive again,” Mosher said.

Coincidentally, Elmwood Park just on April 15 had held a groundbreaking ceremony for a major flood-control project.

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