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UPDATE: High water forces road closures; river officials monitor conditions; more rain in forecast

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Tuesday's heavy rains forced dozens of road closures across the Region, but an overnight freeze has city and town officials closely monitoring the situation over the next 24 to 48 hours. 

Municipalities impacted by the rising Little Calumet River — Hammond, Highland, Munster, Griffith and Gary — are on high alert after the major 2008 flooding event, Dan Repay, executive director of the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission, said Tuesday night.

"We're asking everyone to be vigilant," Repay said. 

Gary officials have mobilized the floodgate at 35th and Chase Street and at Harrison Street and placed sandbags and barricades in other local areas.

Abandoned cars could be seen in flooded roadways through the Region. At Southlake Mall, parking lots turned into ponds and at least two people were rescued from floodwaters in Porter County.

Members of the Porter Volunteer Fire Department packed sandbags at the fire station Tuesday night in an effort to save homes in the Indian Springs subdivision from rising levels of Pratt Lake.

Some schools in the Region canceled after-school activities Tuesday due to the rain.

High water forces road closures

After seeing drivers disregard INDOT barricades Tuesday, the Indiana Department of Transportation warned drivers on social media to turn around and not attempt to drive through standing water.

Officials also urged people to drive with caution due to potholes erupting on the Region's roadways.  

The threat of overnight freezing temperatures prompted the city of Portage to open up a flooding phone hotline and prioritize reports of persons trapped by rising waters and serious roadway flooding.

“The rainfall is expected through (Wednesday) morning with an immediate freeze afterwards. With the rainwater trapped by the frost still in the ground, it is making the flooding much worse,” the city said in a news release Tuesday.

Portage city staff will be manning a hotline for flooding at 219-762-4564, while crews will be out making sure storm drains are open to help mitigate flooding, city officials said.

Dozens of local, county and state roads were blocked off in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties as much of the Region was placed under a flood warning and travel advisory.

Several of those roads could remain hazardous to drive on this week due to the frozen ground and additional rain in the forecast, officials said. 

LaPorte County Sheriff John Boyd advised drivers not to proceed through standing water especially if it’s flowing to avoid the chance of being swept away.

A flood warning for all of Lake, Porter, Newton and Jasper counties was set to expire at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

In LaPorte County, a flood warning was set to expire 11 p.m. Tuesday, but a flood watch will remain in effect until 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Portage officials were reporting "very high water" levels in the area of Hamstrom Road and Defiance Avenue.

Little Cal communities prepare

Public works crews from Hammond and Munster barricaded the Northcote Avenue bridge along the Little Calumet River early Tuesday in anticipation of possible flooding, and the Kankakee River at Shelby may crest later this week above its record high.

The Little Calumet River at Munster rose more than 5 feet from Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

The river measured at 15.28 feet at 6 p.m. Tuesday and was expected to crest at 15.6 feet early Wednesday morning. 

At least 2 to 3 inches of rain fell Tuseday, with an additional 1 to 2 inches expected through 1 a.m. Tuesday, according to the NWS.

Communities affected by the Little Calumet have emergency plans in place in the event of major flooding, Repay said.

Repay said the Northcote Avenue bridge was closed to traffic about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. The road met conditions for closure and could be barricaded without straining resources, he said.

The commission, officials from river communities and the Army Corps of Engineers met Tuesday afternoon to discuss next steps. 

There was discussion about closing Kennedy Avenue, but in following protocol, the commission decided against it, he said.

“To close Kennedy Avenue, the elevation needs to be 15.4 inches. So until it meets that magic number, (we don’t close it),” Repay said.

Repay said the commission is keeping a close eye on water levels in streams in Dyer and Crete, which flow into the Little Calumet. It will be good news when those tributaries begin to recede, he said.

“We still have these waves of showers and the system has been under a lot of stress for the last 36 hours or so," he said. "So we're closely monitoring the situation. I don’t want to give people false sense of hope or a false sense of security,” he said.

Little Cal levees can withstand a rise to 16 feet, but some cities and towns have opted to close roads. Munster closed Bernice Road south of the Little Calumet River on Tuesday, he said.

Munster Town Manager Dustin Anderson said Tuesday the town has some backyard flooding, and residents' sump pumps are working overtime. 

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Any residents who have water in their basements may call Anderson's office at 219-836-6900.

Hammond City Engineer Dean Button said Tuesday the city was taking precautionary measures to prepare, but is optimistic that the regularly inspected Little Calumet levee is in good condition.

Kankakee may crest above record

Rivers and streams under a flood warning included the Little Calumet at Munster, Hart Ditch at Dyer, the Kankakee River at Shelby affecting Lake and Newton counites, the Kankakee at Kouts and near Dunns Bridge affecting Porter and Jasper counties, and the Kankakee at Davis affecting LaPorte, Starke and St. Joseph counties.

Hart Ditch was at 14.45 feet as of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The weather service has expected the ditch to crest at 14.7 feet at midnigt. The record high is 16.8 feet.

The Kankakee River at Shelby could crest later this week above its record high, the weather service said.

The Kankakee at Shelby was at 11.72 feet as of 5:15 p.m. Tuesday and was expected to crest at 13.5 feet Thursday. The record high is 13 feet. 

Each of the counties along the river were monitoring levees and watching for any signs of trouble, said Jody Melton, executive director of the Kankakee River Basin Commission.

When the river reaches 12.6 feet at Shelby — in the Shady Shores subdivision — residents have to start placing sandbags, he said. If forecasts are correct, residents will start placing sandbags in the next day or two.

Sumava Resorts residents and Newton County officials likely were preparing for high water, he said.

"Since bank work was completed there a few years ago, sandbagging has not been needed," he said. "We have not seen the river this high, so we'll have to wait and see what may be done."

The rising Kankakee River also stopped the city of LaPorte from draining its lakes, said Jerry Jackson, the LaPorte’s wastewater department superintendent.

A gravity drain opens to keep Pine, Stone and other lakes in LaPorte from flooding when levels begin creeping up. Lake water from the several mile long drain is deposited into Travis Ditch which carries it to the Kankakee River.

Jackson said shutting off the drain when the river gets high was part of an agreement to acquire state funding to help pay for the construction of the drain in the late '90s.

Sanitary sewer overflows

The city of LaPorte and town of Chesterton reported combined sewer overflows from their respective wastewater treatment plants.

Chesterton utility Superintendent Dave Ryan said the overflow resulted in untreated water and sewage being discharged into the east branch of the Little Calumet River.

It was just the fourth time in 10 years untreated waste water was discharged into Travis Ditch because of the system’s inability to handle the influx, Jackson said.

Normally, incoming water exceeding the plant’s capacity to treat it is diverted into a 30-million-gallon storage lagoon.

It’s held and later pumped into the plant for treatment as flows dissipate, Jackson said.

The 2.5 inches of rain over a 24-hour period coupled with a lot of melting snow completely filled up the lagoon, forcing heavy volumes of wastewater still coming in to bypass the plant, said Jackson, adding there has been reports of flooding in some basements and crawlspaces.

Frost laws in effect

LaPorte County enacted its annual frost law Tuesday morning to keep heavy trucks off roads softening because the frozen ground beneath them is melting, said LaPorte County Highway Department Superintendent Bob Young.

Young said heavy trucks will not be allowed to haul until at least Wednesday to limit damage to the roads.

The city of Valparaiso and Porter County have also placed frost laws into effect.

According to a news release from the Porter County Sheriff's Department, the county ordinance enacts a 5-ton weight limit on nearly every county road. The Sheriff's Department commercial vehicle enforcement division as well as the Indiana State Police commercial vehicle enforcement division will be out in full force enforcing the law.

Permits will be issued by the county highway department for emergency purposes only. School buses and curbside trash collectors that are on their prescribed routes are not subject to the restricted weight enforcement. For any questions regarding permits or the ordinance, contact county highway at 219-465-3570.

Valparaiso officials said drivers should be aware of the following limits and permit requirements. 

The only city streets without a weight limit are: Calumet Avenue from Burlington Beach Road to Morgan Boulevard and Morgan Boulevard from Calumet Avenue to Lincolnway.

No trucks are permitted on the following routes: the entire length of Washington Street; Harrison from Campbell Road to Froberg Road; the entire length of Yellowstone Road; Bullseye Lake Road from Calumet Avenue to Campbell Road; Ransom Road from Campbell Road to Froberg Road; the entire length of Glendale Boulevard and Evans Avenue from Roosevelt Road to Silhavy Road.

Check back at nwi.com for updates.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.

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