HAMMOND | About 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Tina Cruz and David Velasco walked to their back door to check out the storm.
Two minutes later, as they returned to the basement of their house in the 6600 block of California Avenue, water began “gushing” out of their sewer drains so fast that they didn't have time to unplug appliances or grab a hamper of clean clothes off the floor, Velasco said.
“It literally floated the washer,” Cruz said. "That's how much water was in the basement.”
Neighbors estimate basements in 20 houses along California Avenue were affected as Wednesday's storm dumped up to 3 inches in the city. Other parts of the region also were hit with heavy rain. According to the National Weather Service, Gary received 3.72 inches, Valparaiso received 3.64 inches and Crown Point received 2.94 inches.
Hammond residents on California Avenue question whether a street reconstruction and sewer replacement project occurring outside their homes caused the backups and want help replacing the items damaged.
Art Vazquez, who has lived on the street for 21 years, said basements in the neighborhood usually don't back up in heavy rains. Vazquez expects water ran down from 169th Street and overwhelmed the project, causing rain water, and, in some cases, sewage to flow as high as 3 feet into basements.
“It was like someone opened up a fountain in each person's basement,” Vazquez said. “I watched people panic. I helped the lady on the corner here. She tried her best bailing it like you'd put out an old-time Chicago fire, and it was useless.”
A representative from Hasse Construction, the project's contractor, said the company was working with the city to rectify the situation and to ensure residents are treated “fairly and equitably.”
John Hasse, the company's construction manager, said the company is investigating what caused the basements to back up, calling the flooding an “act of God issue.”
“Hammond evidently got 3 inches of rain in a very short period of time,” Hasse said. “These weren't the only basements flooded in Hammond."
City Engineer Stan Dostatni said city workers and the project's contractor immediately responded to the flooding Wednesday night, and the Sewer Department inspected the damaged basements Thursday.
A temporary connection between the existing sewer and new sewer appears to have failed under the pressure of the water, which may have led to the backups, Dostatni said.
The city fielded approximately 30 calls as of Thursday morning on basement backups following the previous night's heavy rain. Dostatni estimated half the calls came from residents on California Avenue.
On average, the city fields between 10 to 50 calls following storms. Those calls are down from years ago when the city received as many as 3,000 complaints after a heavy rainstorm because of improvements made to the system, Dostatni said.
Richard Hohalek bought a house on California Avenue a year ago and had just finished rehabbing it. The house had a new furnace, washer, dryer and water heater, which Hohalek said he now will need to replace.
"Blood, sweat and now tears," he said.