Flooded roads, swollen rivers, lightning strikes as storms sock region

2013-04-18T21:25:00Z 2013-04-27T21:25:09Z Flooded roads, swollen rivers, lightning strikes as storms sock regionTimes Staff nwitimes.com
April 18, 2013 9:25 pm  • 

Heavy rain poured down Thursday on Northwest Indiana, causing road closures, flooding basements and threatening residents living near local rivers.

Although most of the area saw a break in rainfall Thursday evening, areas around the Little Calumet and Kankakee rivers remained under a flood warning.

By Thursday afternoon, the Little Calumet River was above flood stage and parts of the Kankakee River across Northwest Indiana were above or close to flood stage.

Areas around the Little Calumet River were expected to remain under a flood warning until Friday night, according to the National Weather Service. As of 8 p.m., the river was at 15.1 feet. The flood stage is 12 feet.

Parts of Lake and Newton counties around the Kankakee River remained under a flood warning as it was expected to continue rising to 12 feet by Friday.

In Chicago, the rainstorm ripped open a sinkhole on the South Side large enough to swallow three cars and send one driver to the hospital.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared a state of emergency, and parts of several expressways were closed because of high water.


On Thursday, Hammond and Munster were most impacted by the threat of a flooding Little Calumet River.

The Little Calumet River continued to slowly rise from 14.88 feet Thursday afternoon to 15.1 inches Thursday evening.

It was expected to continue rising to 15.2 feet by Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

At 15 feet, river flooding starts to impact nearby homes. The National Weather Service noted there already were reports of moderate flooding.

Hammond City Engineer Stan Dostatni said there was basement backups in North Hammond early Thursday, and the bridges over the Little Calumet River at Columbia and Northcote avenues were closed.

Crews were seen out as early as 5 a.m. filling sandbags in case of flooding.

The areas impacted by basement flooding were primarily near Columbia Avenue and Tree Street. Dostatni said it was unclear why that area flooded and the issue would be assessed.

Dostatni said the situation in the city was improving by late Thursday, and he expected bridges to re-open Friday.

Calumet Avenue remained closed  from 141st Street to Sheffield Avenue for most of Thursday. Dostatni said Calumet Avenue was expected to re-open Thursday evening and other traffic restrictions were easing as well.

Hammond Fire Chief Jeff Smith said the closures of the two bridges over the Little Calumet River did not impact emergency vehicles in the city Thursday because Calumet Avenue serves as a re-route to The Community Hospital in Munster.

In Munster, Calumet Avenue was temporarily closed or had restricted lanes.

In Calumet City, municipal officials are focusing their attention on the water levels in the Little Calumet River. Campbell Avenue from Pulaski to Michigan City roads was closed due to flooding.

Tom Mannix, a city spokesman, said the heavy rain Wednesday night and early Thursday had officials concerned the river could overflow. 

"They're holding their own," Mannix said of the city crews that were working to prevent flooding.

Lansing Village Administrator J. Wynsma said Crystal and Brittany lanes north of Ridge Road were closed, as was Stony Island Avenue between Ridge Road and Thornton-Lansing Road.

The levee on the Little Calumet River was working and the river was going down ever so slightly, he said.

Wynsma said many people in Lansing were experiencing water in their basements either from seepage or sewer backup.

Lake County Surveyor George Van Til said the county's system of 600 miles of floodwater drains were nearing capacity in the Little Calumet River watershed, which includes much of north and central county areas, but hadn't overtopped their banks to any large degree. He said the 2.58-mile-long Hart Ditch was 80 percent full. It drains 45 square miles of Dyer, Munster and a portion of Will County in Illinois.

According to the National Weather Service, the Hart Ditch was 7.94 feet as of 8 p.m. It is considered at flood stage at 12 feet.

Van Til said recent work by the county and Merrillville has reduced flooding on Hart Ditch, which often closed a section of Cleveland Street between 61st Avenue and 73rd Avenue. He said that road was open Thursday afternoon.

On Wednesday night, lightning was blamed for at least one house fire in Dyer, Fire Chief Thad Stutler said.

Firefighters were called at midnight to a home at 149 Deer Creek Drive for a report of a smell of smoke from a resident. Stutler said the fire was contained to the attic. There were no reported injuries.

The family will be able to return to the home after repairs to the roof and clean up of smoke and water damage, he said.


As swollen ditches continued to carry rushing rainwater to the Kankakee on Thursday afternoon, river officials said the following 24 hours would tell whether the river overflows its levees.

Enroute to the river in south Lake County, Jody Melton, director of the Kankakee River Basin Commission, said he was thinking positively.

"I hope the National Weather Service is overpredicting a bit," Melton said of the forecast that Shelby could reach 13.1 feet by Saturday. "It would be a new record if we could hold that. ... So far, our levees are in good shape," he said.

In the past, the levee at Shelby has held to 12.5 feet. As of Thursday evening, the river was at 10.5 feet. Flood stage is 9 feet. The National Weather Service said the river is expected to rise to 13.1 feet by early Saturday.

Near Sumava Resorts, where a levee rings the unincorporated community along the river's southern bank, state officials were watching the rising river and U.S. 41. At 13 feet, the Kankakee River at Shelby causes flooding on Ind. 55 and in Sumava Resorts.

Melton said he had a call from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources concerned the Kankakee may flood over the highway.

"It goes up, but it comes down fast," Melton said.

Lake County Highway Superintendent Marcus Malczewski said at 1 p.m. there were no closures on the 559 miles of roads in the county's unincorporated areas. He said high water signs had been posted in areas where flooding periodically takes place in anticipation of more rain.

Van Til said ditches in south county, which drain into the Kankakee River, were not as full as those used for the Little Calumet River. He said the south county levels could be impacted by flooding in Illinois that would back up drainage in Indiana.

Lake County sent loads of sand and more than 1,000 empty sandbags to the Kankakee River at Shelby on Wednesday.

The Kankakee River at Dunns Bridge and near Kouts is under a flood watch. As of Thursday evening, the river at those locations was at 8.96 feet. Flood stage is 10 feet.

The Porter County Sheriff's Department said the rain did not cause any road closures Thursday.

In LaPorte County, the Kankakee River was under a flood warning at Davis Route 30. The river was at 10.82 feet Thursday. Flood stage is 10 feet.

This season, Melton said, "We started in a better position. The river was still relatively low when the rains began. He said the Kankakee River Basin Commission spent "a lot of money" on improvements to the levee system along the river.

Currently, Melton and the commission members are waiting for state legislators to determine its next budget.

Melton said the Indiana House and Senate have $1 million penciled in for the commission. The matter is now going to conference committee.

"We asked for $2.5 million. If we only get a million, we'll have to cut back, but I'll live with that," Melton said.


In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon in response to widespread flooding.

Illinois State Police said Thursday afternoon that there were still pockets of high-standing water on the Bishop Ford Freeway. The Illinois Department of Transportation said both directions of Stony Island Avenue were closed starting at 95th Street. Ill. 1 between Steger and Crete also was closed.

Portions of the Edens, Eisenhower and Stevenson expressways in Illinois were closed due to flooding.

The rainstorm ripped open a sinkhole on Chicago's South Side large enough to swallow three cars and injure one driver badly enough that he had to be hospitalized.

The injured man was driving when the road buckled and caved in. He was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. The other two cars were parked.

Flooding also led to the cancellation of about 550 flights at O'Hare International Airport. There was 5.54 inches of rain at O'Hare by noon.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District said the tunnel and reservoir system, which consists of 109 miles of tunnel and two reservoirs, is 100 percent full.

The entire tunnel system holds 2.3 billion gallons. The district opened the gates at three different locks in the Chicago region, where it says about 5 inches of rain had fallen.

When the Chicago area waterway levels are higher than Lake Michigan and predetermined elevations are reached, the district opens control structures to move as much water as possible out of the system to provide flooding protection and more capacity for stormwater.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County announced that several properties in the south suburbs are closed due to the heavy rains. They include Whistler Woods and Calumet Woods in Riverdale, Beaubien Woods off the Bishop Ford Freeway on the Southeast Side, Thorn Creek in Lansing, Glenwood North and South in Glenwood and Sauk Groves 4 and 5 in South Chicago Heights.

— Times Staff Writers Lauri Harvey Keagle, William Dolan, Chelsea Schneider Kirk and Elvia Malagon; Times Correspondents Lu Ann Franklin and Gregory Tejeda; and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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