Friday’s superstorm: Flooded viaducts, water rescues and a rampaging Butterfield Creek

Flooding on Dartmouth Road in Flossmoor looking toward the dead end following storms Friday night. (Provided photo)
Flooding on Dartmouth Road in Flossmoor looking
toward the dead end following storms Friday night.
 
(Provided photo)
 

The first call came in at 8:05 p.m. last Friday night.

A car was stalled at the flooded intersection of Sterling Avenue and Flossmoor Road in downtown Flossmoor. With heavy rain falling for most of the evening, streets in the bowl-like downtown area were already under several feet of water. The Flossmoor Road viaduct, with about five feet of water under the Metra tracks, was impassable.
 

A Metra worker shows the high water mark in a portion of the Flossmoor Road viaduct, the result of intense thunderstorms Friday night. (Provided photo from Tom Dobrez)
  A Metra worker shows the
  high water mark in a portion
  of the Flossmoor Road viaduct,
  the result of intense thunder-
  storms Friday night. 
(Provided
  photo from Tom Dobrez)
 

Firefighters arrived on the scene to help the driver of the stalled car. Both wore “dry suits” that are reserved for water rescues. Both were tethered to the fire engine. One of the first responders made his way to the vehicle in distress and the other remained at the other end of the line until the driver was safely out of the car and at the fire truck.
 
“Yes, it was a water rescue,” Flossmoor Assistant Fire Chief Keith Damm said. The firefighters on Sterling Avenue had to follow the same guidelines they use when they rescue someone from a pond.

In all, the fire department — with the assistance of Flossmoor police — rescued about a dozen people from stalled cars on Sept. 27. Damm said fire crews rescued one person in a wheelchair who was trapped in a car and another who had limited mobility.
 

Cleanup work continues Wednesday in offices at the northwest corner of the Sterling Avenue/Flossmoor Road intersection, where Coldwell Banker and other businesses were damaged by flooding Friday night. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
  Cleanup work continues
  Wednesday in offices at the
  northwest corner of Sterling
  Avenue and Flossmoor Road,
  where Coldwell Banker and
  other businesses were
  damaged by flooding
  Friday night.
  
(Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
 

Damm said he’s seen similar events following heavy rains in the H-F area but last Friday was unique in Flossmoor’s recent history.
 
“All three major east-west streets — Flossmoor Road, Vollmer Road and 183rd Street — were closed by the rain,” he said. “We were unable to get from the west side to the east side of town.”
 
Ultimately, a fire engine was sent south to U.S. Route 30 in Matteson, then back to Flossmoor so that emergency service was possible on the east side of the Metra tracks. Damm said the Homewood Fire Department agreed to provide assistance on the east side of the tracks until that unit arrived.
 
Damm said none of the people who were rescued from cars needed to be hospitalized. 
 
“That was fortunate,” he said.
 
But Damm emphasized that the number of flooded areas in Flossmoor made for an extremely dangerous situation.
 
“I can’t stress this enough,” he said. “Never drive on streets or roads that are flooded. Don’t drive anywhere when you can’t see the curb or the side of the road. Turn around and take another route.”
 
Normally, four firefighters are on duty in Flossmoor during an overnight shift. Damm said a number of volunteer, paid-on-call department members assisted on Friday, bringing the total number of firefighters on duty Friday to 12. That allowed for staffing at the firehouse along with providing fire engines on both the east and west sides of town. The department also assisted at a fire in Beecher that night, he said.
 
The east side of the village saw some of the heaviest accumulation of rain, especially at the south end of Dartmouth Road, at the point where it’s adjacent to Butterfield Creek. 
 
That stretch of Dartmouth resembled a lake last Friday. Flossmoor Public Works Director John Brunke told the H-F Chronicle that Butterfield Creek drains a watershed that is 20 square miles and extends nearly to Frankfort — and that much of that water went through Flossmoor on Friday.
 
The National Weather Service reported on Saturday that Flossmoor received 6.38 inches of rain in the previous 24 hours. 
 
In the village’s downtown area, water broke through the glass door at Coldwell Banker Real Estate, located on the southwest corner of Flossmoor Road and Sterling. The office building was badly flooded. In the days after the storm, a dumpster outside the business was loaded with ruined office furniture. 
 
Brunke said public works crews began preparing for the storm on Thursday, when weather reports indicated that as much as five inches of rain might be on the way. A street sweeper was sent through the village and staff members cleared debris from drains and catch basins. On the night of the storm, public works crews put up barricades where streets were impassable.
 
In recent years, it appears that rain events have become more intense, Brunke said, and there is evidence that more rain is falling. In the past, one defining factor of a 100-year storm was that seven inches of rain had fallen. Now that number is set at eight inches, he said.
 
Brunke said Tuesday that since the storm he has spoken with officials at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District about taking part in a study that will lead to a master plan on preventing flooding in the south suburban area. Flossmoor is part of the MWRD, the regional agency that oversees flood control efforts. Part of Homewood is in the MWRD and part is in the Thorn Creek Sanitary District.
 
Part of the flooding problem in downtown Flossmoor is due to an undersized storm sewer under the Metra viaduct, Brunke said. That pipe, which is likely part of the viaduct’s original infrastructure, is about two feet in diameter. Plans have been discussed to replace that storm sewer with a four-foot pipe that would extend east on Flossmoor Road all the way to Butterfield Creek. Such a project would probably cost about $3 million, and the money is currently not available. Flossmoor has applied for grants that might possibly finance the improvement, he said.
 
Brunke said about 12 people contacted the village after Friday’s storm to report water backing up into their homes. He asked homeowners to let the Public Works Department know if flooding in their residences has occurred so that the village can provide assistance to prevent reoccurrences following future storms.
 

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