Everybody in south suburban Cook County is aware that on April 18, the area was drenched with rain from the storm that knocked out power in many households, caused huge traffic delays and flooded basements.
I remember trying to get to work the next morning. It took me an hour to drive five miles. On the way to work, I saw motorists stranded on flooded streets in need of rescue. What were they thinking? Entire parking lots were submerged so that no one could get in or out.
When I got to work, my voice mail was full of messages from Thornton Township residents who were in a panic because they didn’t know where to turn. It seemed no help was available to them.
The calls ranged from minor seepage to several feet of rain water, sewage in basements and floating appliances. Several areas within Thornton Township experienced power outages, which meant sump pumps stopped working as well. And the water came rushing in.
Many homeowners had never experienced this type of water damage before, and the stories are heartbreaking. Seniors and disabled homeowners with no flood insurance or policies that do not cover seepage or flood damage — especially if their community is not in a designated flood plain — or a deductible so high that a person living on a fixed income is left at the mercy of scam artists.
Even though we did not know exactly what we would be able to do or the extent of the problem, Thornton Township began to make calls to the American Red Cross to find out what they might be prepared to help with. Fortunately, the American Red Cross was already geared up to assist, and within one day dispatched disaster relief trucks filled with flood cleanup kits to be distributed to residents affected by the storm. I believe even the American Red Cross was surprised at the extent of need.
Thornton Township's Community Emergency Response Team began visiting the homes of callers to assess the damage within one day as well, to determine how we might be able to help. What we found was alarming to say the least.
We found many seniors living in deplorable conditions. The stench of sewage, mold and mildew indicated there was a problem long before this most recent storm. Even some of the newer houses we visited have been experiencing rain water seepage for quite some time. It makes you wonder how many corners were cut by builders to increase profits.
We also found many older homes had not been maintained well enough to keep the water out. The tragedy: Where are the family, neighbors or friends of these victims? Couldn’t visitors smell the odor coming out of these houses? Did anyone even care?
Did their doctor even ask about their living environment when they complained of respiratory problems? Is it the responsibility of the local government to be concerned about the health and well-being of their taxpayers? Who is supposed to step up to the plate to help these residents?
Seems everybody is waiting for FEMA to declare a disaster — which might never happen. In the meantime, the mold and mildew are growing, the insurance companies are telling their customers they can’t help, the scam artists are racking up the big bucks, and the media have moved on to the next big story.