The Kankakee River flooded homes Thursday in far south Lake County as it surged above its record high, overtopped a bridge on U.S. 41 and flooded Porter County fields, prompting nearby evacuations, officials said.
Floodwaters surrounded homes in the Wildwood subdivision in Schneider, where some residents told Fire Department personnel the high waters were the worst they'd ever seen. Homes along West 250th Avenue also flooded.
"A 70-year-old woman was hell bent on not leaving until the pumps were going. She was a trooper. Finally, her family finally talked to her into getting into a boat (to evacuate)," Paul Channell, chief of training with the Schneider Volunteer Fire Department, said Thursday night.
The Schneider Volunteer Fire Department has urged residents to voluntarily evacuate, Channell said, but no one had had accepted the department's help as of Thursday night.
The Lake County Sheriff's Department helicopter made passes through the area, but found no one stranded, Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. said. The helicopter made checks throughout the day.
Channell said he personally would be monitoring the river conditions throughout the night. Emergency officials were worried about more rain in the forecast, he said.
"If you were to dump a bottle of water in the river, that would be a concern at this point," Channell said. "These folks, you know, they've lived there all their lives. These old timers have never seen anytime like this in 60 years."
"State conservation officers are out here," Martinez said. "They have three John boats that are set up for rescues, with the equipment they need."
The Kankakee River at Shelby was at 13.26 feet — above its record high of 13 feet — about 7:45 p.m. Thursday and was expected to continue rising to 13.3 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record high was 13 feet.
A levee just east of Schneider and another in Shelby breached, Martinez said.
Crews stemmed the flow from the levee near Schneider and began pumping water out from around homes, he said. In Shelby, residents sandbagged after the water overtopped a levee, and the river was close to breaching the levee again.
All the levee breaks have been secured for now, Martinez said Thursday night, but officials were in Shelby on Thursday night "working to keep it from breaching again."
Sandbagging efforts continue
Shelby residents began sandbagging early Wednesday and were stepping up efforts Thursday with more rain in the forecast, Lake County Commissioner Jerry Tippy said.
The Lake County Highway Department was standing by to help move sandbags from Shelby to other areas along the river as needed.
Jodi Richmond, director of the Lake County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, urged residents to report any flooding. The information could help if the county seeks an emergency disaster declaration, she said.
To report flooding, residents should go to Lake County government's website at lakecountyin.org, she said. The site also includes information on how to obtain assistance because of flooding, she said.
Anyone with questions can call Richmond's office at 219-755-3549 or the Lake County commissioners' office at 219-755-3200.
The northbound lanes of U.S. 41 were still closed as of Thursday night.
Lake Station homes flooded, horses rescued
Residents in Lake Station also continued to battle floodwaters, and the National Weather Service was predicting a chance of more rain through Sunday.
The Lake Station Fire Department on Wednesday urged residents in at least 35 homes east of Deep River and south of Interstate 80/94 to evacuate. On Thursday, the department helped evacuate people, horses and other animals from another area near the river, officials said.
City emergency crews were busy rescuing about 15 horses and ponies from stables flooded by Deep River on Thursday as river levels threatened to creep up to to Lake Station homes and prompt voluntarily evacuations.
City firefighters and other emergency workers retrieved the animals and other personal possessions from homes near 25th and Dakota Street in the shadow of the Interstate 65 and I-94 interchange on the Lake Station-Gary border.
"We want to make sure they have places to go," Lake Station Mayor Christopher Anderson said.
Another 11 horses were rescued Wednesday, and a number of horses were left in place because they had access to dry barn and feed, he added.
Anderson said about 30 households have been evacuated from homes along Deep River where water had crept up to their foundations, but now appears to be receding from its its flood peak of 19.8 inches.
NIPSCO has shut off gas meters at 15 homes in Wednesday's voluntary evacuation area and another 27 homes in Gary because of flooding, spokeswoman Kathleen Szot said.
The river gauge on Deep River at Liverpool Road, close to the affected area, was at 19.39 feet at 7:15 p.m., down from 19.73 feet earlier Thursday. The river crested at 22.1 feet during the 2008 flood.
Anderson said city officials were worried about more rain in the forecast.
"That's obviously a concern, because it takes several days — even weeks — for the water to recede to normal levels," he said.
Along the Little Calumet, road closures remained in place Thursday at Northcote Avenue, Martin Luther King Drive and Georgia Street, said Dan Repay, executive director of the Little Calumet River Basin Commission.
Kennedy Avenue was reopened at 5:30 p.m., he said, and Northcote should be reopened by noon Friday.
Officials monitoring Yellow River levee
Porter County government issued an alert to residents about the release of water in Starke County.
"We are advising residents along the Kankakee to closely monitor water levels and exercise all possible caution," a county Facebook post said. "We are also asking residents to avoid travel in this area and be aware that all county road bridges across the Kankakee may be closed depending on water levels. The Porter County Sheriff’s Department is in the area monitoring the situation."
DNR planned the release after water breached the Yellow River levee west of Ind. 139 in Starke County, in the Kankakee State Fish and Wildlife Area, Jody Melton said.
The Kankakee was in moderate flood stage at two points in Porter County and another in LaPorte County.
The river overtopped the levee in several places in Porter County, and the possible surge had officials concerned about residents downstream, Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke said.
"Remember, there's a lot of material coming down the river — trees and other debris that will possibly be slamming some of the piers," he said. "There could be some erosion around the piers.
"It's a really nerve-wracking time for the people down there," he said.
Officials in Lake County were not overly concerned about a possible rise in river levels because of a release upstream by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in Starke County, he said.
"We're expecting the river to come up possibly another inch or two," Tippy said. "We're not expecting a surge."
In Hobart, the water receded overnight and the only remaining road closure was Wisconsin Street, Public Works Director John Dubach said. He expected Wisconsin Street to be reopened by Thursday afternoon.
Officials had been closely monitoring the Lake George dam and bridges at Third Street and Wisconsin Street. Water at the dam rose 17 feet between the start of the intense snow melt and rain and Wednesday. During the flooding, a swollen Lake George overflowed into downtown waterfront areas, parks and parking lots and water filled the iconic Brickie Bowl.
NIPSCO restored service following a gas line leak that resulted in shutoffs Wednesday for five customers on Cleveland Street in Hobart, NIPSCO spokeswoman Szot said. Crews uncovered a 4-inch gas line, but did not find evidence of what caused the damage, she said. There was standing water in the area at the time of the leak.
The National Weather Service said 4 to 6 inches of rain fell between 6 p.m Sunday and 6 a.m. Wednesday in southern parts of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. The northern part of Porter and LaPorte counties and middle part of Lake County received 3 to 4 inches, and northern Lake County saw 2 to 3 inches.
Gallery: Flooding in Northwest Indiana