As Southlanders battle high waters, homebuyers persevere
BY MITCH DUDEK Sun-Times Media April 18, 2013 9:56AM
Updated: May 20, 2013 7:46PM
When he saw the dream house he’d already put a deposit on partially submerged Thursday, Joe Stoffey began to swear under his breath.
“Why is this happening?” he thought. His girlfriend, Chrissy Wild, began to cry.
A new small lake separated the couple from checking the damage. The “for sale” sign in front of the 21/2-story New Lenox home was hidden by floodwaters up to the realtor’s name.
They left and returned with an inflatable kiddy pool and two cedar planks. A boat and oars. They floated in their makeshift vessel to the front doorstep, not knowing what to expect.
The owner, a man who’d sent his pregnant wife to higher ground hours earlier and was stranded at the home, came outside.
“Hello. We’re not crazy. We’re just checking on you, and we’re buying the house from you,” said Wild, 30, who’s training to be a nurse.
“He welcomed us onto the deck and he offered us a beer and we talked to him for a little bit,” said Stoffey, 30, an oil refinery worker. “The garage and first floor had flooded. But he said they’re going to make sure everything’s cleaned up and taken care of before the closing.”
After some soul-searching, the couple decided to continue with the purchase.
“We still want it. We still love it. The good things in life are worth fighting for,” Wild said.
The couple decided to frame the picture used on the cover of today’s Sun-Times and hang it when they move into their new house.
More Southlanders bail out
Sump pumps gushed water out of flooded basements, tow trucks pulled cars out of flooded parking lots, and public works employees pushed debris off of sewer grates so rain could drain off the streets.
But with the amount of rainfall that hit the Southland and the rest of the Chicago area, winning the battle against flooding was going to take something more.
“We need Mother Nature to turn the spigot off,” Oak Lawn village manager Larry Deetjen said.
Friday’s forecast called for possible flurries or snow showers, with lower temperatures and wind gusts up to 35 mph. But the next spring rainstorm could be around the corner, and the overtaxed drainage system annually is cause for concern among Southlanders.
Floodwaters on Thursday caused road closures from Oak Lawn to New Lenox to Park Forest, and closures of schools in Burbank and the library in Tinley Park, to name a few.
Deetjen said a sizable Metropolitan Water Reclamation District reservoir on 87th Street in Burbank — but right across the street from Oak Lawn — was full. And it holds 15 billion gallons, Deetjen said.
“That’s billion with a ‘b’ — and it’s at full capacity, at street level,” he said. “That could lead to extensive flooding there.”
Not far from the reservoir, Burbank resident John Bystryk was running a generator he had to buy to run a pump to empty the 3 feet of water in the crawl space of his ranch home in the 6400 block of 86th Street.
“It cost me $320. Not too bad,” he said as the generator whirred in his driveway, a long hose pouring water into the lake that was the intersection of 86th Street and Natchez Avenue.
“It’s not so bad. The water stayed in the crawl space and didn’t get into the basement,” Bystryk said.
On the southeast corner, Joelyn Henderson was counting her blessings. Her home had no flooding even though water that spilled from the Melvina Ditch Reservoir had been lapping maybe 6 feet from her door earlier Thursday.
“We’re OK, lucky so far,” she said.
As she spoke, several motorists who realized they could not safely negotiate the water-clogged intersection used her driveway to turn around.
Deetjen said Oak Lawn had received about 70 calls from residents by early afternoon seeking help with flooded basements. The village has “a limited number of pumps” that residents could use. Residents also could place storm-damaged items on the parkway for pickup by the public works department and Allied Services, effective immediately, he said.
Circumstances were similar in other Southland towns.
In Tinley Park, many ponds were at capacity, and many homeowners were reporting basement flooding, which might be attributed to a ComEd power outage to about 200 residents, according to Patrick Carr, director of emergency management for Tinley Park.
In neighboring Oak Forest, heavy rain caused Midlothian and Natalie creeks to overflow, forcing some of the street closures, Oak Forest city manager and public works director Troy Ishler said.
He said he’d rather deal with a snowstorm than relentless rain.
“The snow, you can move away. When someone’s home floods, it’s a helpless feeling for public works when you see that,” Ishler said.
Will County officials warned drivers not to try to pass through flooded streets.
“You can’t judge how deep the water is,” county emergency management agency director Harold Damron said. “You can’t tell if the water is 6 inches deep or 3 feet deep.”
Such was the case in New Lenox, where a car was being towed from the Metra parking lot on U.S. 30 after the driver drove into a pond in the lot, public works director Ron Sly said.
In Chicago Ridge, public works director Doug Koehler was philosophical about the storm.
“We have to deal with the hand we’re dealt,” he said.
But seldom has he been dealt such a soggy hand.
“We got over 5 inches of rain. That’s a lot for anybody to handle,” Koehler said. “We’ve had big rains before, but we’re talking 5 inches. We need the rain to slow down for a few hours so we can catch up. If we get a break, we can handle more later.”
Evergreen Park got about 25 calls regarding flooded basements.
“Thankfully, it’s been spotty and not a constant storm. It’s not a Noah’s Ark kind of thing,” village spokesman Glenn Pniewski said.
Contributing: Steve Metsch, Donna Vickroy, Susan DeMar Lafferty, Jessi Virtusio