Chicago River Flooding: 'This Never Had to Happen'

By Patty Wetli on April 20, 2013 8:44am 

ALBANY PARK —  As Albany Park and North Park residents mopped up after the second "100-year" flood in five years, containing the Chicago River — which overflowed its banks and overwhelmed their neighborhoods — was top of mind.

"This never had to happen," said Kevin Krstovich, a resident of the 5000 block of North Monticello Avenue, who still had two feet of water in his basement on Friday, though he'd managed to rescue his electronics and power tools.

Mother Nature may be unpredictable, Krstovich argued, but previous flooding in 2008 gave government officials ample warning about the danger the river posed to residents.

Krstovich was among a number of residents who complained that sandbagging didn't start until Thursday afternoon, well after rain began falling Wednesday night.

"I thought they would've learned from [2008] and got out in a heartbeat," he said. "They did nothing until the block was a total disaster."

Representatives from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which had set up a command post at Eugene Field Park, declined to speak with DNAinfo.com.

Krstovich also called for a more permanent form of protection from rising river waters.

"They should have built a retaining wall after 2008," he said. "This is ludicrous. This one could have been prevented or at least minimized."

Krstovich was one of the few residents who ventured out of doors on a frigid afternoon that brought occasional peltings of snow. It was a sharp contrast to the scene on Thursday, when the neighborhood buzzed with emergency personnel and gawkers eager to snap a photo of knee-deep water on city streets.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Chicago River crested Thursday at 8.57 feet, besting a record of 7.86 set in September 2008, and a marked increase from the 5.14 feet recorded on April 17. As the water receded, it left behind a calling card of grimy residue that coated sidewalks and lawns, like a tide that had washed in and back out again.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), whose 5th District includes the neighborhoods, toured the area, surveying a still-swamped Eugene Field Park and the walls of sandbags stacked to stanch the river's flow.

His first priority, Quigley said, was to get FEMA funds into the hands of residents to repair their flood-damaged homes.

Beyond that, he acknowledged the need for a regional approach to flood planning.

A retaining wall, Quigley said, merely pushes water from one spot to another, passing the buck from Albany Park to another neighborhood further down the channel.

"The broadest issue is climate change. We're having more storms of greater severity," he said.

Even as rain fell on Thursday, Quigley said he was coincidentally on the phone working to secure funding for a pair of reservoirs that will eventually provide an additional 14.8 billion gallons of water storage.

He argued for additional measures, like the restoration of wetlands, to absorb greater amounts of rainwater.

"We need less concrete," said resident Sheila O'Neill, who's been diligent about putting in native plants, which are known for their deeper roots.

"The whole problem is not the river," said Merima Gvozden, of the 5000 block of North Bernard Avenue.

On Friday, Gvozden, whose basement remained dry, could be found poking below the inches of murky standing water on Bernard, trying to locate a sewer grate she suspected had been clogged with debris.

"The whole problem is this," she said, pointing to the asphalt street and its lack of drainage.

Though still without gas or heat, Gvozden, a native of Bosnia said she had "been through worse" in her native country.

"You come here and you want to have a nice life."

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