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Nightmare of a morning commute: ‘I thought I was dying’

A car sits under water Edens Expy. south Pratt Thursday. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

A car sits under water on the Edens Expy. south of Pratt on Thursday. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 20, 2013 7:52PM



Sunjoon Kwon was on his way to work Thursday morning when he drove into an unexpected pool of water on the Kennedy Expressway.

“I didn’t see the water,” Kwon said of the 5 a.m. commuting nightmare near Elston Avenue. “The water came into my car.”

The engine of the tan Toyota Camry died, so the 64-year-old Skokie resident tried to get out of his car.

“I couldn’t open the door. I opened the window and go out from the window,” he said.

Hours later, a reporter spotted the car abandoned on the highway in a pool of water that reached the top of its tires.

“I am so scared,” Kwon, a pressman at a printing company on Chicago’s South Side, said, recalling his fear as water gushed in. “I thought I was dying.”

Though not all experienced the same horror as Kwon, many had their own hellish commute following Thursday’s deluge. About 5 1/2 inches of rain fell Wednesday and Thursday. It was the highest two-day total for April, according to the National Weather Service, but it’s nowhere near the all-time two-day rainfall record of 9.35 inches in August of 1987.

The rain caused major flooding, which led to road closures.

Multiple expressways were closed at some point Thursday, including the Edens Expressway, the Kennedy Expressway and the Bishop Ford Freeway. But by the evening rush hour, most of the highways were re-opened, easing people’s return home.

“This is a pretty rare event that we’ve had closures on multiple expressways at the same time,” Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jae Miller said. “It hasn’t happened in recent years.”

Several Metra lines were delayed earlier Thursday due to the flooding and switching problems caused by a lightning strike.

On the CTA, officials monitored water levels in subway tunnels and rerouted buses away from flooded areas.

But in at least one instance, a bus drove through a flooded viaduct and was inundated with water.

Dmario McDonald, a passenger on a Kimball-Homan bus, said murky water gushed into the bus through the front and rear doors. Passengers put their feet up on the seats as the bus filled up with three or four inches of water. McDonald, a 38-year-old graphic designer from the Irving Park community, snapped a photo that circulated online Thursday.

“It was completely unexpected,” he said. “It was exciting if anything because normally it’s a dull day on the ride in. That was really the highlight of my day.”

But for many, the flooding didn’t add a sense of excitement. Rather, it was a pain.

George Chivari Jr.’s commute from the West Loop to the western suburbs is normally 35 minutes but on Thursday it lasted more than three hours.

After bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-290 and deep puddles that Chivari “floored” his sports car through, the 31-year-old ended up parking about five blocks away from his Berkeley office.

He took off his dress shoes and socks, rolled up his slacks and walked the rest of the way through knee-high water.

“I’m surprised I even made it to work,” Chivari said.

For Waukegan Public Schools employee Jody Spina, commuting from Crete is a haul on a good day — 90 miles and about an hour and 40 minutes door-to-door. On Thursday morning, she added another 40 minutes and struggled to stay on the Tri-State Tollway pavement at one point.

“When I was south of Hinsdale, there was so much rain that I can’t even explain it — my car was completely covered in water,” she said of the squall that hammered the west suburbs around 5 a.m. “It was like I was sliding down the roadway more than driving on it.”

Meanwhile, Kwon said he was going to salvage as much as he could from his soggy car.

“The car is all messed up,” Kwon said. “We have to throw it away, I think.”

Contributing: Dan Moran, Art Golab and Jon Seidel



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