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Chicago Declared Disaster Area Amid Floods


Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has declared a state of emergency in his state, as the Chicago area grappled with the impact of damage from widespread flooding and another wave of storms on the way.

"Heavy rainfall over the past few days has created dangerous flooding in areas across the state," he said. "Everyone should stay home and off the roads if possible. To ensure safety as these storms continue, people should be alert and avoid flooded areas."

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued a disaster proclamation Thursday for Cook County, where Chicago is located, in the face of the massive flooding.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings and flood watches over the entire metropolitan Chicago area as the area braces for another two inches of rain along with possibly strong-to-severe thunderstorms, damaging winds, lightning, large hail and even an isolated tornado.

Rain and flooding caused parts of the Edens and Eisenhower expressways to close in both directions. The list of closed roadways grew throughout the region as the rain persisted.

In the last 24 hours, more than six inches of rain fell in Oak Brook and Naperville, while O'Hare International Airport saw 4.69 inches. Among the towns hardest hit with more than five inches of rain were Elmhurst, Lisle, Lombard, Aurora and Wheaton.

Hundreds of flights were canceled Thursday at Chicago's airports, and some trains were delayed as severe weather blanketed the metro area. Thursday morning at O'Hare, water was seen coming through the roof at Terminal 3.

Gov. Quinn headed to the Chicago area Thursday morning to survey flood damage after a torrential downpour dumped several inches of rain on the region. 

"We have to do this together as a family," Quinn told reporters. "When we have any kind of emergency, we work together for the common good. We help each other."

Quinn said a hospital in Morris, Ill., had to be evacuated, as well as two trailer parks currently underwater. Residents have lost whole rooms of belongings, and in Chicago a sinkhole swallowed three cars, injuring a man.

"We got about three feet in 15 minutes, and it just rose from there," said Jeff Giegoldt, who was jerked awake Wednesday by the sound of rushing water in his basement bedroom on Chicago's Northwest Side.

He told NBC Chicago he was able to rescue his cat and his laptop, but everything else remains in the basement under about six feet of water. At one point the water rushed in so quickly, the basement screen doors snapped off their hinges.

"We knew the rain was coming, but you can't be prepared for six feet of water like that," Giegoldt said. "Everything I have is down there."

His story is similar to many residents experiencing flooding after Thursday's massive storm poured several inches of rain on northern Illinois.

David Bonilla, who lives a few doors down from Giegoldt, said he managed to grab just a few things before the water rose to dangerous levels nearly up to his chest. Most of Bonilla's belongings also are submerged under six feet of water.

These homes aren't near a river or a flood plain, so many residents don't have flood insurance. That means the next step is to wait for everything to dry out.

"Basically, right now we're playing the waiting game," Bonilla said. "Just waiting for the water to go down so we can get down there and clean up and salvage what else we can get."

North of the Chicago, Lake County officials declared a state of emergency as some residents were forced to evacuate their flooded homes. Several towns west of the city also declared states of emergency, including Lisle, Lombard and Elmhurst.

"We encourage people to stay off the roads and if you do have to be somewhere, please slow down because the water then creates a wave effect that will flood people's home," Elmhurst City Manager Jim Grabowski said.

Meanwhile, Quinn has activated the State Incident Response Center, which allows officials to assess flooding and severe weather in several areas of the state and expedite assistance that may be needed by local public safety officials to protect citizens.

Quinn emphasized the need to work together, noting state officials are ensuring public safety by taking measures like dispatching prison inmates to fill sandbags, assisting stranded motorists, coordinating with the National Guard.

His office said the Red Cross has opened shelters in Roanoke, Oglesby and Lisle and is continuing to assess the need for shelters and other assistance.

"I urge everyone to stay alert and avoid flooded areas," Gov. Quinn said. "Residents should tune in to local TV and radio stations for updated information about any closed routes or evacuations."


Photo Credit: NBCChicago.com

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