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Kankakee River falls below previous record; assistance center staff stand ready

A vehicle plows through a flooded road to enter the Sumava Resorts community Feb. 26.

File, The Times

The Kankakee River at Shelby finally receded below its 2008 record high Wednesday morning, more than a week after setting a new record high.

On Wednesday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb added LaPorte County to the list of 31 counties declared a state disaster area.

Residents along the river still have a long way to go.

Farm fields upstream in Porter and Starke counties remained flooded, and that water eventually will move downstream, said Jody Melton, executive director of the Kankakee River Basin Commission.

Staff at a state assistance center in Lake Station helped 22 people Monday, officials said. The center also will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday at Polk Elementary School, 2460 Vermillion St., in Lake Station.

Another assistance center in DeMotte will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Town Hall, 112 Carnation St. SE.

All residents — including those who may not live along rivers but still sustained uninsured damage from standing water — should report the damage and visit assistance centers if necessary, officials said.

Those with property damage not covered by insurance can report it at A link to the portal also can be found at under Featured Topics.

The Kankakee River at Shelby was measured at 13.02 feet early Wednesday, which is slightly lower than its 2008 record of 13.04 feet. The river rose last week to nearly 13.3 feet, a new record.

"It's looking like it's going to run to 13 through the end of this week," Melton said.

Part of the reason the Kankakee at Shelby is so slow to recede has to do with elevation, he said.

The river's elevation in Porter County is slightly higher, but it flattens out in Lake County as it runs into Illinois, he said.

A levee break on the west side of Interstate 65 in Newton County remained, which continued to flood fields. There are no homes in that area. However, the water will eventually re-enter the river and flow downstream, Melton said.

Ind. 55 at the river remained closed in both directions, and traffic restrictions on northbound U.S. 41 were in effect, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation. Ind. 8 and Ind. 39 in LaPorte County were closed.

The bridge at Clay Street, south of 217th Street, in south Lake County also remained closed, said Jan Smoljan, superintendent of the Lake County Highway Department.

The highway department continued to man pumps in south Lake County 24/7. That work will continue until the river falls below 11 feet, Smoljan said.

State officials said Wednesday it remains too early to say if federal assistance can be requested.

State and local crews have been conducting damage assessments, officials said. Additionally, staff with insurance companies associated with the National Flood Insurance Program also might be visiting policyholders.

Data being collected by the state will be reviewed to determine if a request should be sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a preliminary damage assessment.

The state warned residents FEMA does not currently have staff operating in northern Indiana. Residents should be cautious and request identification to verify agency affiliation before granting anyone access to their properties, officials said.

Gallery: Flooding in Northwest Indiana


Public safety reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.