City of Rockford assesses Labor Day flood damage

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11581742523803.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Carson Wilson’, ‘Debris sits in front of a home in the 1600 block of 6th Avenue. It was among the many homes and businesses affected by flooding after the Labor Day storm.’);

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said the city continued to assess damage from flooding caused by a Labor Day storm. Morrissey and emergency officials gave an update during a press conference after the Sept. 4 city council meeting. Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) Regional Coordinator Paul Rasch was among the officials who spoke.

“We respond in a support capacity,” Rasch said, describing his role. He said more IEMA staff would be joining him Sept. 6.

Morrissey signed a declaration of local emergency Sept. 5. “Hundreds of homes, businesses and public and private infrastructures have been severely impacted by this tremendous storm,” Morrissey stated in a Sept. 5 press release.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen said, during the Sept. 7 County Board meeting, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich had declared the county a disaster area. Christiansen urged county board members to assess any damage in their districts to bolster the case for state and federal help.

Blagojevich promised, in a Sept. 7 press release, to work closely with local officials to help the area recover.

“Nearly 160 homes, businesses and other buildings in the Rockford area were severely damaged by Monday’s sudden flooding,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Many families were forced from their homes and may not be able to return for quite some time. We’re committed to helping the Rockford area recover from this storm as quickly as possible.”

He noted an IEMA team has been in the area since Sept. 5, assessing damage and determining what help is needed. With the state disaster proclamation, state assistance could help local governments with extraordinary costs incurred in responding to and recovering from the damage. That assistance also could include state assets, such as equipment and work crews, to help with debris removal.

Blagojevich said IEMA contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct a federal damage assessment to help the state determine if the area would qualify for a federal disaster declaration. That would make grants or low-interest loans available for individuals and business and reimbursement to local governments for extraordinary expenses. A federal disaster declaration is issued when recovery from a disaster is beyond the capabilities of the local and state governments.

Rockford Fire Chief Bill Robertson said flooding was most prevalent in the Churchill Park and Mulford Road areas. Robertson said firefighters went door-to-door in the Churchill Park neighborhood, locating 20 homes with significant damage. He said 100 homes in the Mulford Road area had significant damage. Acknowledging the damage caused power outages, Robertson urged people to be careful with candles.

Amy Newell of the city Human Services department urged those affected by the storm to contact her if they are in need of food, clothing or shelter. Newell suggested they contact the American Red Cross’ Rock River chapter or the Salvation Army or American Red Cross Rock River Chapter Director of Community Relations Kathy Dyrdahl. More than 20 people, including seven children, had been brought to the organization’s shelter. Dyrdahl noted the Rock River Chapter had given away about 40 clean-up kits to area residents.

“It’s been a great collaborative effort,” she said, referring to the response to the storm and its consequences. Dyrdahl said both the shelter and Salvation Army have provided meals, and those needing clothing are being directed to the Salvation Army.

Morrissey said Sept. 5 the city was still assessing the damage, but stressed the necessity of documenting the damage: “It’s important we build our case for additional support.” He noted meeting residents’ immediate needs is a priority as well. Morrissey said the city will get a mechanism in place to support those with no flood insurance.

As of Sept. 6, Morrissey said, 15 homes had been condemned. That number rose to 20 by the time of the Sept. 7 press conference, featuring Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. Rockford Fire Division Chief of Operations Bill Beeman said, during the press conference, personnel had gone door-to-door assessing damage, while compiling a list of damaged structures and condemned properties. Beeman said personnel had canvassed about 4,700 homes. Of those, he said approximately 200 had financial or structural damage. According to Beeman, more than 50 of 80 businesses have sustained damage.

Morrissey stressed, during the Sept. 4 press conference, any problems were strictly due to natural causes: “The Alpine Dam did its job. (We) didn’t need to release water.”

The dam is in Aldeen Park, which is in the 600 block of North Alpine Road, between Guilford Road and U.S. 20, east of North Alpine Road. According to a February 2005 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers document, a dam failure could result in $37.5 million in property damage. A 1999 city-requested assessment report stated the 64-year-old Alpine Dam needed major repairs. But those repairs wouldn’t address design and capacity problems.

From the Sept. 13-19, 2006, issue

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