Jody Melton is driving along the Kankakee River, watching and waiting to see how bad the flooding will become before the waters recede.
"This is a record flood," he said.
Melton, executive director or the Kankakee River Basin Commission, remembers the previous record well. It was in 1982, when he had just been hired for this job.
"I started with this flood in 1982, and that was the flood of record," he said. "Now I'm getting ready to retire, and it's a record flood again."
With rivers, disasters can be slow-motion.
Near Kouts, the Kankakee River gauge measured the depth at 14.36 feet deep Saturday afternoon, near the 1982 record of 14.52 feet. The river is still rising and expected to crest at 14.7 feet — a new record — Tuesday night and stay there a couple of days before it starts receding.
"We've got a week to go," Melton said. "It's ugly; it's going to get uglier. The power of water is pretty interesting."
JASPER COUNTY — Jasper County officials were urging about 30 homeowners near the Kankakee River in DeMotte to evacuate after a levee breached …
A levee west of Interstate 65, in Newton County, broke early Saturday, he said.
The water will flow down to I-65 and go under the railroad track there, he said.
"That's a real bad area. We've been working on getting a permit to fix that area for quite a while," he said, but environmentalists have objected to the proposed work there, stalling the necessary Indiana Department of Natural Resources permit.
The Indiana Department of Transportation has been working with Melton's commission, designing the bridge over the Kankakee River to allow heavy equipment to drive under the bridge to reach the levee, but the flood came before the work could be done.
Near Ramsey's Landing, where the now-defunct Marti's Place stands, workers tried to strengthen the levee with sandbags, two truckloads of sand and a bulldozer. But a nearby levee broke Thursday, so the contractor pulled out his crews and heavy equipment for their own safety, Melton said.
"This break at Ramsey's Landing hasn't gone down at all," Melton said.
There is more debris piled up at that bridge than Melton has ever seen, he said.
Firefighters tried to get residents along the southern riverbank near there to evacuate, but most of them don't want to leave, Melton said.
"Their driveways are under water, but their houses are pretty much OK."
In Starke and Jasper counties, the sides of drainage ditches are breaking, and water is spilling out onto fields and roads.
"We're outmanned, and there's so much water, and it's breaking everywhere," Melton said.
At Grand Kankakee Marsh County Park, just west of Hebron in Lake County, the road is flooded, and the roadbed is washed out underneath the water, Melton said.
DeMotte is becoming isolated by the water. U.S. 231 was still open Saturday, but the water was getting high near the road.
Ind. 49 and I-65 are the only other major north-south routes near there that would be safe from flooding, Melton said.
The big worry downstream is what's yet to come.
"It's working its way down," Melton said.
"Everybody along the river's nervous."