Routes 178, 351 and I&M Canal towpath all closed
It won’t be remembered as the area’s worst flood – that distinction still belongs to 2013 – but Monday’s surprise flood of the Illinois River leaves several riverside cities with a big mess to clean up.
In Peru, restaurants with riverside views such as Brandy’s were furiously pumping out water, reported Jeff King, public services manager for Peru. King said he was hopeful those businesses could avoid damage but he felt certain Water Street will remain impassable for days to come.
“It’s supposed to crest tonight,” King said Tuesday, “so we probably won’t have much cleaned up even if we get to it this weekend.”
At press time Tuesday, the Illinois River was beginning to recede after its fastest and least-expected rise. In previous years, heavy rains would fill the river’s watershed and give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers days to anticipate flood events and to warn cities.
Not this time. Record rains in Chicago starting May 14 thundered across the watershed and resulted in a virtual flash flood. In a span of hours Monday, the Corps raised the flood projection from a near-miss to third worst on record, catching riverside residents and business owners flat-footed.
Besides Water Street in Peru, the overflow forced authorities to close Route 351 in La Salle and the Illinois and Michigan Canal towpath early Tuesday. Jeff Bumgarner, La Salle's public works superintendent, said he was surprised by how swiftly the river rose.
“In the past 12-18 hours, it's really come up a lot more than past floods,” he said.
For infrastructure in La Salle, he said the city is in good shape, mentioning there is a dike around the wastewater plant near Canal Street, but all other city infrastructure is at high enough ground.
In Utica, Route 178 was closed and business owners in Utica’s South Clark Street business district worked late into the night emptying their wares into moving vans.
Village trustee Debbie Krizel helped the owners of Nonie’s Bakery & Cafe to load furnishings and the inventory into a moving van now parked near the tornado memorial. Based on revised flood projections, Krizel explained, Nonie’s dining room is expected to get water.
“It’s not looking good,” Krizel said.
The village hall itself was expected to be spared, however. Tuesday afternoon, the Corps revised its projection to 15.8 feet above flood stage, nearly 2 feet below the catastrophic flood of 2013.
“I still expect us to see rising waters in the village for another 12 to 15 hours,” Mayor David Stewart warned at 5 p.m. Tuesday. He pointed out that though the river was set to crest around 7 p.m., several forces will keep floodwaters rising indefinitely.
The worry now is how much more rain is coming. The Weather Channel website shows only a nominal chance of rain (10% to 20%) through Friday but the forecast also shows isolated thunderstorms over Memorial Day weekend until Thursday, May 28.
Fortunately, the National Weather Service doesn’t foresee the widespread drenching that pounded Chicago late last week and which led to the flood.
“Over the next few days it looks like we’ll be in a drying pattern,” said Lee Carlaw, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville. “The rain won’t be much and won’t add to your flooding woes, which is good news for sure.”
Carlaw acknowledged this weekend’s storm activity bears watching, but forecasts call for more isolated storms rather than the widespread rains that filled the river systems.