Rockford Declared Disaster After Massive Flooding

ROCKFORD IL | Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dozens Of Houses Swamped

Rockford was declared a state disaster area Tuesday, after a downpour flooded a section of the city, forcing the evacuation of about 30 people and knocking out power to thousands more in the second damaging flood in less than 12 months.

The city received just more than five inches of rain Monday night and early Tuesday, with most falling from midnight to 7 a.m. Tuesday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Charles Mott.

Video from the air and the ground shows block after block under murky water. Cars, streets and basements were submerged.

Fellowship Hall at Lutheran Redeemer Church also flooded. The church's young pastor volunteered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and was trying to remain positive.

"The biggest things that you feel a loss for, buildings and things like that. What you realize is people are the most important thing," Rev. Stephen Klemp said.

The Red Cross set up a shelter at Halstrom School and expects as many as 180 people to spend the night there.

As the water began to recede Tuesday afternoon, residents braced for the possibility of more rain. A storm moving east from Nebraska could bring more rain to the area, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Rich Brumer.

"After all the rain they got last night, it's not going to take a lot to tip the bucket again," Brumer said.

The evacuated area is in the flood plain of Keith Creek, where water overflowed drainage ditches and was waist-high in some streets Tuesday morning, Assistant City Administrator Julia Valdez said.

"With the amount of rain we got in a short time, it was more than the system can handle," Valdez said. The storm knocked out electricity to an estimated 9,000 residents.

As the water subsided Tuesday, some residents returned to their homes to check on damage, Valdez said. Officials were letting homeowners back to their property on a case-by-case basis, she said.

Also on Tuesday, Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared Rockford and Winnebago County a state disaster area and dispatched the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to the area to help. The governor offered state help with debris removal, law enforcement and damage assessment and other duties.

The flooding occurred in the same area as last year's Labor Day flood, which displaced hundreds of Rockford residents, Valdez said. That flood prompted Blagojevich to declare Winnebago County a state disaster area.

"I guess I'm just shocked that it's happening again," Alderman Jeff Holt told the Rockford Register Star.

The newspaper reported that Rockford hospitals had treated four patients for flood-related injuries, including a woman who fell in her basement and a man who was burned by a kerosene lamp.

The city is seeking federal funding to rebuild a dam on Keith Creek and make other infrastructure improvements to prevent future damage to homes and businesses, Valdez said.

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