RIVERSIDE – Carefully, Goodrun Olson stepped off her front porch and into a waiting canoe. Her dog, Mork, jumped in next.
Together, they were pulled through the chest-deep water by a member of Riverside’s Volunteer Fire Department down West Avenue. Where there once was a street, there now was a pond.
As Olson stepped out of the boat and onto dry land, she thanked her rescuer, picked up her overnight bag and began to walk the dog. Mork, it turns out, really was the only reason she was leaving her home April 18.
“We’ve done this many times before,” Olson said with a bemused shrug.
Olson decided to stay with family for a few days outside of Riverside, largely, she said, because the dog needed to use the bathroom and she didn’t want to canoe down the street each time.
“My husband is staying home,” she said. “We learned to deal with it. We don’t keep anything valuable in the basement. When the water goes down, I’ll go downstairs with some bleach and start cleaning up.”
The fact that the river was up to her porch seemed only a slight nuisance to Olson. Surprisingly, she wasn’t the only one in Riverside to wait out the floodwaters.
Maura Braun, a Riverside resident, was bagging sand at Village Hall about the same time. Her area was evacuated by the fire department as well, but said they’d probably stay home, too.
“We’re not under water yet,” she said with a shrug. “We probably wont stay so lucky.”
For the moment, she said, all there was to do was bag sand and hope for the best.
Residents evacuated, streets underwater
Riverside wasn’t the only area community hit hard by last week’s flooding. Lyons and Brookfield were also underwater for most of the weekend. First Avenue, closed between Ogden Avenue and 31st Street, only reopening Monday.
Large swaths of the communities were under deep water April 18 to 19 as the Des Plains River and Salt Creek rose to record heights.
“I’ve been here 28 years,” said Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. This is the highest it’s been.”
According to the Riverside Fire Department, more than 61 structures in the village flooded with more than 200 residents displaced. As of Friday, more than 100 basements remained flooded. The fire department conducted seven boat rescues in Riverside and assisted with another 11 in Forest View.
“I think we were fortunate,” said Fire Chief Spencer Kimura. “[These floods] are always devastating, but I think that we fared pretty well.”
Fire and police departments in all three municipalities reported crews working long hours to evacuate residents, control traffic and assist with cleanup.
Lyons’ Fire Chief Gordon Nord said his department conducted about 40 resident rescues by boat, in addition to going door-to-door in flooded areas to check on residents.
“It was a very coordinated effort,” Nord said. “The water rose a lot faster than we expected, but we started planning for it on Wednesday night, so I felt well prepared.”
In Brookfield, fire crews dealt with two structure fires in addition to flooding evacuations. About 10 residents needed to be evacuated by boat in the 3600 block of Forest Avenue, Chief Patrick Lenzi said.
“It went as well as could be expected,” Lenzi said Monday morning.
Community spirit stays high
One thing the rain could not dampen was the spirit of the communities it drenched.
In Riverside, that fact was highlighted by teams of kids, teens and adults all pitching in to bag sand. Like Maura Braun, some residents were there to stockpile their own bags, but many more were lending a helping hand.
“My backyard is pretty flooded, but it’s not too bad,” said Cathy Porter as she tied sandbags. “There’s no one in charge – everyone’s just picking a task and helping out.”
All around her were residents with shovels, others holding bags and more still lifting filled sandbags into trucks to be taken to flooded areas.
Doug Harvin of Riverside had been out bagging for a couple hours already by 5 p.m. Thursday.
“[My] backyard is pretty wet,” he said. “But we’re doing okay. That’s why I came out to help.”
Harvin said he was impressed by the turnout at the sandbagging area – particularly the kids who were helping out.
“There’s a lot of kids here,” he laughed. “And they’re working really hard. I think it does show something about our community.”
Students at Riverside Brookfield High School were released early on April 18 around 12:15 p.m. because roads to the school were inaccessible due to flooding. But rather than spend the surprise day off at home, some came to the village’s sandbagging area to help out.
“I think we’ve probably loaded about a thousand bags,” estimated Jeremy Baartman, 17, a junior at RB.
Baartman said a majority of students didn’t even show up for school that day.
“It was pretty empty,” he said. “I figured I’d help out.”
Many of the teens helping out were a part of the school’s Young Life club. Other younger kids were there as part of the Boy Scouts.
“I think it really shows how the community comes together,” said Robby Filec, 15, a sophomore at RB. “They said they needed help, so we came to help out.”
After the rains stopped, many residents could be seen gathering the village’s downtown taking pictures of the swelled river and talking with their neighbors.
Attention turns to clean up
As of Monday, officials for the area’s governments said they were now focused on cleaning up and applying for financial assistance through Cook County. Some residents in heavily flooded areas reported they were still without power or gas, after utilities were shut down in some homes.
“We’re just working on getting back to business,” Fire Chief Lenzi said.
With more rain in the forecast this week, Lenzi said the departmet was preparing for more flooding just in case.
“Normally I wouldn’t give it a second thought,” Lenzi said of another inch of rain expected this week. “But we’re keeping an eye on it. With the river as high as it is and the creek... the ground is saturated and an inch can be a lot.”