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Reduce Your Water Usage to Help Stem Floodwaters, Water District Urges

By  Quinn Ford Emily Morris and Kyla Gardner | April 18, 2013 7:17am | Updated on April 18, 2013 6:59pm

CHICAGO — With Chicago deluged by record-breaking rain and flood waters threatening homes, officials urged people to reduce their own water usage to help ebb the levels flowing into the Chicago River.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District recommends "taking shorter showers, refraining from washing dishes and washing clothes," said Allison Fore, spokeswoman for the district.

And if you absolutely must clean your clothes, "make sure the loads are full," Fore said.

Assistant Director Sergio Serafino said reducing water during any rainfall is good practice.

"Anytime our sewer system is being used by runoff from a storm, it's good," he said. "...The less water we have in there, the better."

The water reclamation district said the Deep Tunnel system, which can hold 2.3 billion gallons, is now full. To lower the levels, and reduce the chance of severe flooding in neighborhoods, the district opened the locks at the mouth of the Chicago River, at Wilmette Harbor and on the Southeast Side at the Calumet River.

That move, in response to the more than five inches of rain soaking the area, sends stormwater and some sewage into Lake Michigan.

Most of the rain had ceased by 4 p.m. Thursday, but there remained the possibility of a brief evening shower, said National Weather Service meteorologist Gino Izzi.

The rainfall totals were record-breaking for the city: Thursday's 3.53 inches of rainfall was the second rainiest April day on record, falling just below 1975's 3.83 inches. The two-day total of 5.54 inches "shattered" the previous record set in 1947, according to the National Weather Service.

The storms wreaked havoc on Chicago overnight and deep into Thursday.

Expressways were closed during the morning commute. Viaducts around the city had deep standing water. Water levels rose sharply on the Chicago River and its branches, bringing water up near the bridges spanning the river.

More than 600 flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport Thursday, according to the city's aviation department. Flights in and out of O'Hare experienced 90-minute delays. At Midway Airport, about 30 flights were canceled, and travelers experienced delays of about 30 minutes.

All lanes on the Edens Expressway were closed for a time in both directions at Pratt Avenue with about six feet of water on the pavement, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The Eisenhower Expressway was shut down in both directions at Emory, IDOT said.

The Bishop Ford Expressway, at one point, was down to one lane in each direction at 130th Street, IDOT said.

All expressways within city limits were reopened as of 3 p.m. except for the Bishop Ford, according to the city.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Cook County Thursday morning, and then a flood warning that continued into the afternoon.

The flash flood warning means quickly rising water "can pose an immediate threat to life and property," National Weather Service Meteorologist Matt Friedlein said.

The locks at the mouth of the Chicago River downtown were opened at about 4 a.m. to protect residents living along the riverbanks. The Wilmette locks were opened at 1:25 a.m. And the locks on the Southeast Side were opened at 6:15 a.m., according to the water reclamation district.

And Gov. Pat Quinn declared a state of emergency in the state.

"Heavy rainfall over the past few days has created dangerous flooding in areas across the state," Quinn tweeted.

Road conditions and delays

The conditions caused plenty of problems for commuters. Drivers dealt with heavy rainfall, reduced visibility and roads with water on them. Friedlein urged drivers to be careful and check for information before leaving home.

A sinkhole opened on a street near 96th Street and Houston Avenue on the Southeast Side, swallowing several cars and injuring a man, the Chicago Police Department said.

Police responded to crashes and stuck cars across the city as areas experienced a deluge of water. Cops blocked off several roadways. Drivers went right by a sewer geyser near the Ravenswood Metra station and onlookers watched as it sent water spewing in to the street.

IDOT early Thursday reported flooding in spots on nearly every major expressway, including many exit ramps.

The northbound Dan Ryan was also experiencing flooding at 87th Street thanks to water coming from the city sewer system. The Kennedy Expressway had been closed at Addison Street, but flooding there was resolved, IDOT said.

All other Chicago expressways were open, and only scattered small flooding issues remained, mostly on ramps, IDOT said.

Those traveling on the Edens were at a standstill due to as much as 6 feet of water collecting under bridges, Illinois State Police Trooper Juan Lopez said.

"No one's moving," Lopez said.

Detailed expressway conditions may be found here on TravelMidwest with information provided by several government transportation departments.

Public Transportation

Commuters hoping to escape weather issues by using public transportation dealt with their fair share of headaches. Several CTA buses were rerouted to avoid rain overflow across the city. The Blue Line suffered "significant" delays in the morning, while other CTA "L" lines were operating normally in the morning.

Travelers can check the CTA website for updates on reroutes and delays.

Metra trains on nearly every line operated with delays, and some trains were stopped entirely. Delays of 45 to 50 minutes were reported on some trains heading to Chicago. Metra notified of updates regularly via Twitter.

School Closings

Northeastern University announced in the morning that all campuses would be closed Thursday due to weather. North Park University and Resurrection High School also called off classes for the day. Most school closures may be found on the Emergency Closing Center site

Power Outages

About 2,100 ComEd customers lost power Thursday morning in Chicago and Maywood, ComEd spokeswoman Kim Morris-Johnson said and crews were working to restore power. The company is asking customers to report power outages and fallen power lines, and cautioned people not to go near any live wires.

Those without power can report outages by calling 800-334-7661. Customers can also subscribe to ComEd alerts and then text about outages.

Flooding outlook

"Rivers will be on the rise and reach some really high levels over the next couple days, but in terms of right now, roadways, low-lying areas, they're all flooding," Friedlein said.

Friedlein warned drivers to be careful and not to try to drive through flooded areas.

Contributing: Patty Wetli