By Anna Lothson
Turbulent mid-April weather last week brought hail, heavy rainstorms and sleet in three days. The worst of it was late last week when massive flooding struck the region.
River Forest Village President John Rigas said officials there learned from mistakes in 2008 and 2010 when the Des Plaines River also flooded. The rebuilt and raised earthen berm running in the woods from Lake Street toward Chicago Avenue was supplemented with sandbags during last week's flooding. But, he said, there's extensive work ahead to mitigate future river flooding and inadequate sewers.
The area nearest Lake Street flooded, but this time with rain water not river water. A "powerful pump" purchased by the village was used to pump the rain water over the berm and back into the river, said Rigas.
"The changes we made worked out exactly as we planned for. What we learned in the past floods worked well this time. Staff and citizens did outstanding," Rigas said.
Some past problems came back, however, as Rigas said the undersized sewers on the north side were once again inadequate to the job. He acknowledged there were many flooded basements in the central part of town and on the north side. This is one of the reasons the village is looking toward the multi-million dollar sewer project in that area.
Also, the sewer system at Lake Street and the river is poorly engineered and needs to be replaced, Rigas said. The village will likely tackle the sewers on both Lake Street and north of Division at the same time.
As of Tuesday morning, Chicago Avenue in River Forest was still closed at Thatcher Avenue. Multiple roads were closed starting early Thursday with some of those being closed until the weekend. The Des Plaines River crested Friday morning at 18.97 feet in River Forest.
Oak Park registered some 5 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Between noon Wednesday and late morning Thursday, the rain gauge at the village's public works center recorded 4.79 inches.
Crews were surveying the streets early Thursday and unclogging sewer inlets that were blocked. Few streets saw major flooding in Oak Park and no sandbagging efforts were made. Overall, the village received about 100 calls about flooded streets and 30 calls for flooded basements.
Governor Pat Quinn visited River Forest and took a tour with Rigas to assess damage. Rigas said that after Quinn's survey the village quickly got the ear of state natural resources officials to discuss extending the berm further north toward Chicago Avenue. Quinn declared 38 counties state disaster areas, including Cook County. The disaster declaration will accelerate and expand access to state emergency resources as well as allow the state to formally pursue federal relief and support.
Residents and volunteers kept busy throughout Thursday in River Forest sandbagging flood-prone neighborhoods and crews worked to build up barriers in the most affected areas.
In River Forest Assistant Village Administrator Michael Braiman said necessary barriers were placed to prevent overflow at the closed streets during peak flooding periods. The combination of the berm and sandbags kept water mostly out of the frequently flooded River Oaks subdivision.
Braiman extended gratitude to village staff and volunteers — including those from Dominican University, Trinity High School, Concordia University and the Citizen Corp for their help.
"We couldn't have done it without them," he said.
Publisher Dan Haley contributed to this report.