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Crews Transport Residents by Boat as Heavy Rains Flood Northwest Side

By Patty Wetli | April 18, 2013 12:03pm | Updated on April 19, 2013 8:45am

ALBANY PARK — For the second time in five years, Sopath Chhin and his extended family were rescued by boat from their flooded home on Avers Avenue near the Chicago River.

"The furniture's floating, all our stuff's floating," said Chhin, 19, who had no idea where he would be spending the night.

Steady downpours Wednesday and Thursday turned large swaths of Albany Park and North Park into a disaster zone as the swollen Chicago River breached it banks. The area between Carmen and Foster avenues, bounded by Kimball and Pulaski avenues, bore the brunt of Mother Nature's ire.

"Yesterday I was watching the river, and it was still feet below the top," said resident Lisa Romano. "This morning it was huge."

 The swollen banks of the North Branch of the Chicago River.
The swollen banks of the North Branch of the Chicago River.
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Twitter/Jeanne Marie Olson

Police barricaded streets where water flowed knee-deep, crews from the Water Department were pressed into sandbagging duty and Fire Department personnel rescued stranded homeowners.

Sami Tomah stared at his home, partially under water near what should have been the intersection of Springfield and Foster avenues.

“Today, my sump pump was constantly working, but that’s not going to do anything,” said Tomah, who was ferried by the Chicago Fire Department from his house, along with his wife, dog and cat.

Asked where he would sleep Thursday night, Tomah pointed up the street. "There's my car," he said.

Much of the same area was damaged by flooding in September 2008, adding insult to Thursday's storm.

“My dad grew up in this area in the ‘20s and ’30s, and nobody heard of the Chicago River flooding,” said resident Maria Quinlan. “Now it looks like we’ve had two 100-year rains in five years.”

North Park Jessa Butler, 27, and her husband Adam Butler, 29, live a few blocks north of the North Branch of the Chicago River in North Park. They walked to the river and approached a path that had been covered with water.

"I've walked this path many times, but this is amazing to see," Jessa Butler said. "[The river] is twice as big as I've ever seen."

Connie Mendez sat vigil on the front porch of her mother's house at 5048 N. Lawndale Ave., watching the water creep over the sidewalk.

"The last time, my mom lost pretty much everything," said Mendez. "I wish they would have barricaded and put sand bags out yesterday, and they never do."

Though most residents agreed that city's response was speedier than in 2008, many said not enough had been done in the interim to protect homes along the river.

"I think that the sewers for this area are too small for this amount of people," said Romano, whose home was protected by a floodgate installed after previous flooding.

"They should have built a wall," said Tomah, who added that he's considered moving "a million times" since 2008, when 8 feet of water swamped his home.

"It's not even worth staying here," he said. "But who's going to buy [this home]?"

Surveying the damage at Eugene Field Park, which had been transformed into a lake, Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) said the city was working to develop a flood plan for Foster Avenue, but in the absence of one on Thursday, she praised the coordinated response of various city agencies.

“We are a little more prepared this time,” said Laurino.

She encouraged residents in need of assistance to call 311 or dial her office at 773-736-5594.

“We’re here to help,” she said.

Yet residents like Tomah were reluctant to accept offers of shelter out of sight of their homes, worried about a repeat of the looting that took place in 2008.

“Thieves, they love it when it's like this,” he said. “Nobody’s home.”

As evening approached, weary neighbors kept their eyes peeled to the sky and their ears glued to television forecasts.

Twenty-year resident "Gody" — leader of the house band at Lincoln Square's Chicago Brauhaus — remained optimistic as he headed to work Thursday night.

"I was just listening to the TV, and the rain is moving south," he said. "Let's hope for the best."