07-07-03: Rockford volunteers try to
|By TIMOTHY COX
and JANIE SOUTHARD
The Daily Standard
Rockford firefighters were up through the wee hours this morning laying
bags of sand along streets and in front of homes, trying to stave off the rising waters of
the St. Marys River that flows along the northern edge of the village.
By 9:30 a.m. this morning, the firefighters were laying the last bags
around Helen Graham's property at the corner of Pearl and East streets.
"All night I've been watching the river water flood the fields
across the street and praying it won't get under my house," Graham told The Daily
Standard this morning in front of the blue ranch house where she's lived for 45 years.
Graham said this is the worst flooding she's seen in all those years.
Up to 12 inches of rain during the holiday weekend resulted in the
worst countywide flooding in recent memory.
Some city and village streets and rural county roads remained closed
this morning, and the St. Marys and Wabash rivers continued to push their record-setting
flood stages even higher.
Many residents had to be evacuated from a Rockford trailer park and
scores of county residents were coping with flooded basements. Additionally, state and
county officials are worried about the integrity of some bridges and culverts that may
have been compromised by rushing floodwaters.
Mercer County Commissioners met in emergency session Sunday night to
pass a disaster proclamation. Rockford Mayor Bob King signed a similar document for his
town. Those are the first steps to having the area declared a disaster area by the state
and federal governments, Mercer County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency
Management Deputy Director Wanda Dicke said this morning.
"It's the worst I've ever seen," Dicke said.
She said some people have compared it to flooding in 1993, but the
problems then were more isolated and not spread throughout the county, she said.
The National Weather Service (NWS) of Wilmington said radar estimates
show west and north Mercer County received about 10-12 inches of rainfall since Friday
evening. A gauge report from Fort Recovery showed 8 inches, Meteorologist Myron Padgett
As the deluge reached epic proportions Sunday night, about 60 Rockford
residents were forced from their homes. Village Administrator Jeff Long said the decision
was made about 11:15 p.m. to move those residents to safety.
St. Henry Tile Co. sent 30 tons of sand to Rockford for the sandbagging
effort. About 20 volunteers helped with that effort, Long said. Sandbagging also was done
in Montezuma, although no one apparently had to be evacuated.
About 32 of the Rockford people evacuated were taken to an emergency
shelter set up by the local American Red Cross chapter at New Horizons Community Church.
Red Cross volunteer Cathy Smith reported this morning that the last people had left the
shelter, probably to return home and assess the damage to their property.
The shelter was being closed down by mid-morning today, but would
reopen if flooding forces people out of their homes again, Smith said.
Celina firefighter Jon Schumm, a Rockford native, said there are
several areas in northern Mercer County that local firefighters are worried about, mostly
along the St. Marys River.
"In places the river is about two football fields away, but those
areas are already flooded and rising. If it floods more around the big bridge, that could
take out the (American Legion hall) and Barry's market. It's pretty much a wait and see at
this point," Schumm said.
Tom Williams, a Rockford fire department volunteer for the past 37
years, echoed the wait-and-see philosophy.
"Well, I've never seen it this bad. We're in good shape right now;
but if more storms come through today or tomorrow, it'll get a lot worse. But right now we
just wait," he said.
The National Weather Service issued flood warnings all over the county
today as more thunderstorms are expected through Thursday, Padgett said.
"There's storms out in Illinois, some with heavy rain, that could
make their way to you in the next 24 hours," he said late this morning.
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