County responds to flooding

An absolute silence fell over Winnebago County Board members Aug. 9 as Sheriff’s Lt. Bob Springer played aerial footage of areas affected by heavy rains that fell in the early hours of Aug. 7. Even as dark skies loomed through the windows behind him, Springer guided board members on a video tour of flooded parts of the county.

The footage was shot from the county’s recently-acquired Law Enforcement Aviation Coalition (LEAC) helicopter and shows homes devastated by the downpour, along with related stresses to rivers and creeks.

A LEAC helicopter in our area was made possible by grants from the Winnebago County and Rockford Area Crime Stoppers.

Although she’d originally voted against funding the chopper, George Anne Duckett (D-12) thanked Randy Olson (R-1), chief LEAC pilot, for bringing the program here.

“Sometimes we do make wrong choices and make wrong votes,” Duckett acknowledged, “and in this case, I think I did.”

Springer feels the aerial video documentation will aid in proving the county’s case to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA)—an advantage Winnebago County didn’t have when flooding ravaged the area on Labor Day of 2006.

Springer reported 126 homes outside of Rockford were affected by the Labor Day flooding of 2006, to the tune of $700,000 in damage. Aug. 9, Springer told board members early assessments of the most recent flooding revealed 48 affected homes so far, at a cost of $12.6 million, in Cherry Valley and unincorporated areas alone.

A timeline of Winnebago County's response

Aug. 6, 2007

3:30 p.m.—Flood Watch issued by National Weather Service. Sheriff Dick Meyers (D) instructs his department to staff the Winnebago County Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

9 p.m.—The EOC is in place about three hours before rain begins falling.

Aug. 7, 2007

1 a.m.—First reports of countywide flooding, mostly on streets, are received from the areas of Pecatonica, Westlake Village, South Beloit, Roscoe, Machesney Park and Loves Park.

2 a.m.—Additional staff are notified to report to the EOC.

3-4 a.m.—Rain begins to subside. County officials return to the spots hardest hit by the 2006 Labor Day flooding. Street flooding was observed in the Guilford Country Club, Wellworth-Wentworth and the Linden-Perryville areas, but no substantial damage was recorded.

5:30 a.m.—Sheriff’s Department meets with and offers assistance to Rockford Police and Fire personnel, who were setting up their mobile command post.

6 a.m.—Sheriff’s Department meets with and offers assistance to Cherry Valley Village President Jim Claeyssen, and the village’s chiefs of fire and police.

8 a.m.—Sheriff Meyers and Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) are updated on the situation.

10:30 a.m.—Sheriff’s Department meets with Christiansen and department heads. Chairman Christiansen declares Winnebago County a disaster area, forwarding the declaration to Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) office. The county makes arrangements to survey and assess flooded areas using the LEAC helicopter.

11:30 a.m.—Springer is directed to meet with a representative from IEMA, who was taken on a tour of flooded areas, beginning with Cherry Valley. IEMA representatives begin reporting their findings back to Springfield.

3 p.m.—Springer updates Christiansen.

4 p.m.—Joint news conference with the City of Rockford. Blagojevich declares Winnebago County a disaster area-the first step in acquiring federal disaster assistance.

“Once again, families in the Rockford area have been forced from their homes by flooding,” Blagojevich stated. “The State of Illinois is committed to helping these communities recover as quickly as possible from this flooding, and we will continue to work with local officials to see how we can help this recovery process.”

IEMA State Director Andrew Velasquez III and staff arrive in Rockford to meet with city and county officials.

Teams from IEMA and FEMA began conducting their week-long assessments Aug. 13.

Meantime, the county is trying to do all it can to reach out to flood victims. Christiansen urged volunteers to call 1-815-319-4444 to help clean debris from area creeks.

“There’s absolutely nothing political about this,” Christiansen said. “These people are suffering…I’ll be damned if we’re gonna take ‘no’ this time.”

The chairman urged people to contact state and federal legislators, noting: “Every time there’s so much as a 50-mile-an-hour wind in a foreign country, we’re there with our checkbook. By God, we can take care of our own people.”

The County Board’s Executive Committee is expected to draft a resolution urging disaster relief funds for our area.

Pete MacKay (R-5) indicated volunteers are also being sought to assist in the removal of debris from properties owned by the elderly.

“Some people just physically can’t do that,” MacKay explained. “We can’t go on private property, so what we’re gonna do, if we can help them get that stuff out to the right-of-way, we’ll pick it up and dispose of it.”

John Harmon (R-4) recommended citizens and county departments carefully document all expenses related to the cleanup.

“FEMA deals with un-reimbursed expenses,” Harmon explained. “So, if somebody brings his chainsaw, record the size of it, the brand of it, how long it was used. That goes on the report. That’s how you get money out of FEMA.

“It’s about running out of resources. It’s not about how much damage,” Harmon added. “It’s about documenting everything that’s done—every boat that was used as a rescue vehicle, every ounce of gasoline that went through it goes on the form. Let’s don’t miss those things this time.”

The board unanimously passed a resolution Aug. 9 to redirect FEMA funds for last December’s snow-removal to flood relief efforts. The board voted to donate $40,000 to both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Olson indicated the remaining $10,000 could be used to place trash bins and drop-off locations throughout the county.

Bob Kinnison (R-10) explained: “Really, this is nothing more than a humble gesture on the County Board’s part. We have the money there, and I don’t think we need to wait for a snow-related emergency. This is the emergency that we really need to address at this moment.

“Besides money, I would also challenge folks to get involved personally,” Kinnison pleaded. “This is about us, as neighbors, trying to help other neighbors.”

Noting the long wait victims may have before seeing state or federal relief, John Ekberg (R-10) said, “People need hope,” and that the resolution is a good way of trying to give them some.

Asking for unanimous approval, Doug Aurand (D-3) concluded: “Sometimes we seem to forget that somewhere between 65 to 70 percent of this county is Rockford… This is a time where we, as a County Board, can do something to help a major city in our community.”

from the Aug 15-21, 2007, issue

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