CHICAGO (AP) — Volunteers worked into the night to stack sandbags against rising Midwest floodwaters and evacuate people in its path — or rescue those already under water — after a powerful spring storm system unleashed downpours from Oklahoma to Michigan.
Rivers across Illinois, Iowa and Missouri was expected to rise for several days as the water moves downstream, contributing to a major flood on the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa, and Chester, Ill., that won’t crest until the weekend or early next week, National Weather Service hydrologist Steve Buan said. The Illinois River in northern and central Illinois was rising, forcing one small-town hospital to evacuate patients. The Grand River and its tributaries in southwestern lower Michigan were overflowing, with workers using inflatable boats to rescue some people.
“It’s really just all over,” Buan said. “We’re talking about a very significant weather system that laid down a very large carpet” from Wednesday night into Thursday.
Some of the worst flooding was in the Chicago area, where up to 7 inches fell within 24 hours Wednesday night and Thursday, Buan said. The Des Plaines River in suburban Riverside was expected to crest overnight Thursday at a record 10.6 feet above flood stage, almost a foot over the previous record, set in 1987, and the fire department warned residents in low-lying areas to leave their homes or risk being trapped.
In suburban Chicago, Nick Ariano helped rescue a friend’s grandmother, who became trapped in a home filling with water after a branch of the flooding DuPage River spilled over its levee.
Ariano, his friend and another man raced to a sporting goods store to buy inflatable rafts, then paddled out to the home and got Mille Andrzejewski, in her mid-80s, to safety. The three friends got some enjoyment out of the raft ride, despite the eeriness of floating over submerged cars and mailboxes.
“As kids growing up, we used to raft down the river,” Ariano said with a laugh.
About 60 miles southwest of Chicago, a Grundy County hospital evacuated 47 patients after a nearby creek and the Illinois River rose and water crept into the basement, spokeswoman Janet Long said. Elective surgeries scheduled for Friday were canceled, although the emergency department remained open, the hospital said on its website.
Perhaps the storm’s most bizarre scene came in Chicago, where a massive sinkhole opened and swallowed two parked cars and one that was driving through. The driver was hospitalized but was expected to survive.
The massive storm system that wreaked havoc from the Rockies to the Rust Belt — including dumping snow in some states— was blamed for several deaths, including that of an 80-year-old eastern Missouri woman who died after floodwater swept her car off a creek-side road and a 16-year-old Minnesota boy who was killed went he lost control of her car on snow-covered Interstate 94 near Minneapolis. Police in Grand Haven, Mich., were trying to identify a man whose body was found in the Grand River where it enters Lake Michigan.
Snow and ice closed highways in Colorado and Wyoming. Tornadoes caused scattered damage in Oklahoma. Rain caused a sinkhole that devoured three cars in Chicago.
But that was just a nasty prelude to the flooding that is coming to many areas.