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WEEKEND STORMS
'AN EXTREME STORM'

Watch now: Bloomington-Normal flood cleanup will take weeks

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Workers at Home Sweet Home Ministries in Bloomington clean up flood damage Monday. Heavy rains have caused damage across the region. 

Weekend flooding sent 38 inches of water through the basement at Home Sweet Home Ministries' Bloomington mission.

BLOOMINGTON — Cleanup efforts in Bloomington-Normal will take several weeks after more than 10½ inches of rain fell throughout the weekend.

“This is a very, very large loss for the community. We have crews all over trying to get to everyone as soon as possible,” said Greg Cook, director of business development and marketing at Paul Davis Restoration.

Watch now: 3-day rain total 'a 100-year event,' double average for all of June

Paul Davis is one of several companies fielding calls of reported water damage after homes, businesses and streets were flooded. Cook said Paul Davis has received more than 400 calls for service, both commercial and residential, since the storms moved in Friday evening.

Eric Davison, spokesman for the Bloomington Fire Department, said the agency’s first storm-related call came about 9:45 p.m. Friday. About 178 calls later, the calls finally stopped at 1:50 p.m. Sunday.

The Normal Fire Department was busier than usual as well. Fire crews ran 47 calls for service between Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon when the second round of storms finished, but not all of those were weather related, spokesman Matt Swaney said.

More than 40 of Bloomington’s calls were for stranded vehicles, with Bloomington Fire performing at least 17 vehicle rescues. Swaney said about six calls were from stranded vehicles, but they didn’t require intervention from fire crews.

“Anytime you see water across the roadway, turn around,” Swaney said. “You can never tell how deep the water may be, and it doesn’t take much water to flood out your engine or push your car off the roadway. It’s not worth losing your car, or worse, your life, just to get down the road.”

At least 30 road cave-ins cropped up throughout Bloomington over the weekend in the wake of the torrential rains and flash flooding, blocking off roads for what could take up to several weeks to assess and repair, said Kevin Kothe, Bloomington director of public works. Additionally, the department has fielded hundreds of calls for flooded basements due to sewer backups and overwhelmed sump pumps.

“When we have this much rain this quickly, it’s hard for water to get away,” he said. “Truly, this was a very heavy rain that we don’t normally experience.”

Early reports indicate the hardest-hit areas appear to be concentrated in Bloomington’s older neighborhoods, where the city uses a combination sewer system. Citywide, people have begun putting out furniture and other items damaged from the floodwaters onto the curb for roadside cleanup.

Crews have also hit the streets to clear away mud, twigs, grass and other debris left behind in the flash flooding, especially around the downtown businesses. Not even the public works department seemed to be spared as flood waters breached its doors for the first time in over 20 years.

“That intensity of rainfall in that short of time really caused a lot of runoff that just exceeded what the sewers can handle,” Kothe said. “Water wants to go somewhere and it just unfortunately headed through downtown and got into businesses and residences along the path.”

Many homes and businesses that experienced flooding were faced with water coming through their drains. Normal public works crews have monitored sanitary sewer systems, particularly at the Ironwood pump station, which can be more prone to flooding due to lower elevation, said Wayne Aldrich, Normal public works director.

The flooding, Aldrich said, was unlike any other storm he’s seen in his 24 years with the town.

“It was just an extreme storm,” said Aldrich. “The intensity is something these storm sewers aren’t designed to handle.”

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Flood waters lifted the floor of a walk-in freezer at Home Sweet Home Ministries, 303 E. Oakland Ave., Bloomington, after 38 inches of water rushed into the mission's basement.

Several streets were underwater over the weekend, especially those areas near creek crossings. Much of the water receded within hours of the storms passing through, but creek levels remained high.

Alan Hardman, assistant manager at Ace Hardware in Normal, said the store had a record number of customers coming in since Friday, wiping out their flood and water damage supplies by Sunday morning.

Shop vacuums, dehumidifiers, sump pumps, box fans, hoses, submersible sumps, hose fittings — “we sold out yesterday morning of everything,” he told The Pantagraph on Monday.

The store owners sent a truck from other Ace stores in the area to restock Normal because from Springfield to Dwight, “Nobody else got hit like we got hit,” Hardman said.

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Muddy water continued to fill a basement restroom at Home Sweet Home Ministries, 303 E. Oakland Ave., Bloomington, after some 38 inches of water rushed into the mission's basement over the weekend.

Bloomington-Normal recorded the highest rainfall totals in McLean County, according to the National Weather Service in Lincoln.

Bloomington’s totals were about 8-11 inches, depending on where in the city the measurement was taken. About 10 inches were recorded in Heyworth and 9.5 in Shirley.

Hardman said for those handling flooding basements, the first step is to pump out the water and bring in fans to try to dry the area. If the source of the water is the drains, homeowners don’t have much control, since this depends on the sewer system and storm drainage.

If people suspect basement flooding due to sanitary sewer issues, they should call the public works department to file a report, Aldrich said, noting homeowners can also extend gutters to ensure water flows away from the home’s foundation to prevent flooding.

Given the demand from customers, Hardman said he extended the store hours on Sunday, because “We’re trying everything we can to help the community."

Cook estimated cleanup will take several weeks as Paul Davis and every other restoration company is “swamped” with calls and working around the clock to help their customers.

The damage and flooding is “widespread,” he said. “When you encounter as much rain as we did, in such a short period of time, sump pumps and drainage systems can’t keep up. So what we’re finding is sump pumps are working nonstop and they just give out.”

Once a pump fails, there is not much a home or business owner can do. “The water is going to come in; there’s really no way to stop it at that point,” Cook said.

The water made its way into Home Sweet Home Ministries, pouring into the basement Friday night at 303 E. Oakland Ave.

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Mud covered the floor in the basement of Home Sweet Home Ministries, 303 E. Oakland Ave., Bloomington, after 38 inches of water flowed into the mission's basement, Monday, June 28, 2021.

“The impact of over 38 inches of accumulated rain that flooded our basement,” caused damage to the emergency shelter’s freezers, air conditioning unit, laundry facilities, storage shelves and maintenance areas, according to a statement from Home Sweet Home.

Power companies were also kept busy as many customers lost power and others requested their power be disconnected because they were experiencing flooding in their homes, said Hillary Cherry, director of communications for Corn Belt Energy, which powers the outskirts of Bloomington-Normal and the majority of rural McLean County.

“One of our key points is we want to remind everyone not to step into standing water when there is electrical equipment, such as in their basement where they may have a sump pump or other things. It could be deadly,” Cherry said.

She added that Corn Belt Energy crews responded to many calls related to flooding and fallen trees, and they continue to watch the Corn Belt service area for additional flood-related issues.

“We also had power poles impacted by the storms including one that lightning hit and blew the top out of,” Cherry said. “Our crews were able to safely restore power to everyone impacted.”

Ameren Illinois spokeswoman Stacey Shangraw reinforced the concern about customers entering flooded areas that contain electrical equipment. She also gave other advice that Ameren recommends during and after flooding, which includes:

  • Never attempt to turn off power at main electrical panel boxes if you must stand in water or on a wet floor to do so
  • Never use electrical appliances or devices or touch electrical switches, outlets or cords if you are standing or are on a wet surface, or even if you are wet or the device is wet
  • Before touching or unplugging electrical appliances or devices that have been in contact with water, turn off the circuit that feeds the appliance or have the power to the building disconnected
  • If you have any doubts about the safety of your home or business electrical system, have it inspected by a professional electrician

As saturated as the ground already is, Central Illinois isn’t in the clear yet. The forecast calls for possible thunderstorms across the region through Thursday.

The potential for widespread severe weather is low, but locally heavy rain is possible. The heaviest rain is expected to fall south of McLean County, more along Interstate 72, said Mike Albano, a meteorologist in Lincoln.

Temperatures are forecast to be in the 80s, with high humidity through midweek, he said.

The weather should dry out for the holiday weekend, with cooler temperatures and lower humidity expected.


Pantagraph coverage of June flooding

A recap of coverage about flooding across Central Illinois from The Pantagraph.

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Both sides of Interstate 55 in McLean County opened Saturday afternoon after at least 16 hours of road crews working to mitigate flooding and collapse caused by heightened water levels of nearby Timber Creek.

 

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The watch stretches through most of Central Illinois, covering Christian, De Witt, Logan, Macon, Mason, Menard, Sangamon, Shelby, Tazewell and Woodford counties. It also is in place for East and West Central Illinois, including Cass, Champaign, Douglas, Morgan, Moultrie, Piatt, Scott and Vermilion counties. 

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As of 9 a.m., the McLean County Emergency Management Agency said roads near the Mackinaw River or that abut nearby creeks are to be avoided because of standing or moving water caused by severe storms overnight. 

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Portions of Interstate 55 near McLean have reopened after extensive flooding Friday night and Saturday morning.

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A flood warning is in effect for McLean County until 2:15 p.m. Saturday and a flash flood watch is in place until 7 a.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

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Even the National Weather Service is not immune to storm damage.

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Pantagraph journalists spread across the region Saturday to capture video of floodwaters from overnight storms.

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Readers submitted the following images of flooding Friday and Saturday. Submit yours here.

Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.

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