June 19, 2008

Residents Near Chain O’ Lakes Use Sandbags to Build Fort Against Flooding

With sandbags protecting their homes, residents living near the Chain O' Lakes could do little more Wednesday than wait and see if their emergency preparations to fight floodwater had been successful.

"So far, we're holding our own pretty well," said John Schmidtke, a resident of the Fox River Springs subdivision near Antioch. "I think we're all just kind of taking a breather and hoping for dry weather for another two weeks so we don't have to go into emergency mode again."

While flooding is expected to remain a threat through Friday, water levels on the Chain appeared to level off Wednesday at the same time floodwaters in the Fox River receded.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel," said Ken McKenzie, coordinator of the Lake County Emergency Management Agency.

Around-the-clock sandbagging paid off for Schmidtke, whose damage was limited to groundwater seepage into his home's crawl space. Four sump pumps helped keep the water out of living areas.

Officials estimated more than 200 homes along the Fox River and Chain sustained water damage during the weeklong flooding caused by torrential rains. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Saturday declared Lake County a disaster area, opening the door for financial assistance from the state to local governments.

Officials from Antioch to Fox Lake had worried hundreds more homes could be damaged along the Chain, but the recent absence of rain--expected to continue through the weekend--allayed those concerns.

On Wednesday, the Fox River measured at slightly above 14 feet--or 4 feet above flood stage--near the Wisconsin state line. The river was nearly 3 feet above flood stage at the dam in McHenry. Downriver at the Algonquin dam, the water level had dropped below the 3 feet flood stage, to 2.96 feet. The Chain was at 7 feet, about 2 feet above its banks.

The break in the weather allowed workers to begin a damage assessment along the Fox River and the Chain, where homeowners found themselves fighting floodwaters for the third time in a year.

Local business owners also took a hit when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on Sunday ordered all watercraft off the Fox River and Chain from Lake County south through McHenry, Kane and Kendall Counties because of floating debris. The debris included baseball-diamond-size bogs of cattails and other aquatic plants that broke free from the lake bed.

Meanwhile, the Lake County Health Department offered free tetanus shots Wednesday at the Antioch VFW Hall to people exposed to floodwaters during the sandbag operations.

Residents also were advised that water from private wells should be boiled at least one minute before consumption, as a precaution.

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