Flooding Fallout: Recapping the record-breaking March 2019 flooding

Published: Aug. 15, 2019 at 8:07 PM CDT
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Shawn Starry lives in Freeport, near the Pecatonica River. Flooding earlier this year hit his home, hard. The flooding got into his first floor, took off paint, and created a very big mold problem.

Five months later, Shawn and his family are still recovering and currently live without running water or electricity. He says, "It's cost us thousands of dollars and we're only a quarter of the way through, and we still have a lot of ways to go yet. But at the same time, it's just, we're really frustrated."

W. Scott Lincoln of the National Weather Service Chicago Office says that while these floods aren't all that rare, they can be unusual. He says, "We estimate that the flood was about a 1 in 25 to 1 in 50 chance, so you know it was a pretty unusual flood."

Freeport leaders empathize with homeowners dealing with the aftermath, as the city tried to help ease their burden, but hit a bump in the road. Freeport City Manager, Lowell Crow says the city is continuing to work, despite the mishap from earlier this year when llinois failed to submit Freeport's flood grant application.

Crow says, "We had actually applied for the pre-disaster mitigation grant, which would allow us to purchase properties and give people additional money to help them relocate and unfortunately, due to issues at the state level, that grant did not get awarded to us by the federal government."

Residents like Shawn lost trust in the city and state after that happened, because they need the government's financial support to repair the damage. Shawn says, "Honestly, I feel like the city is never going to have that money. We've had politicians come in, parading saying that they're going to help us and nothing ever has been done. I feel like they're holding us hostage."

The Pecatonica River at Freeport crested at 17.26 feet back in March, the ninth highest crest on record there. Even the Rock River at Machesney Park reached its all-time record crest of 14.44 feet. These record breaking numbers are forcing the National Weather Service to make sure its equipment is maintained and accurate.

Lincoln says, "We had just completed a very large review of gauges on the Rock River. It actually started after the Fall 2018 event, it went through the fall to the winter. So after the flood event this spring, it gave us a chance to validate what work had been done from the fall into the winter."

The good news is that the City of Freeport does have a backup plan and by finding partners like the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, that helps cut down the number of abandoned properties by the river. It also helps for the city to reapply for grants that can ease its financial burden.

Crow says, "They have given us $300,000 to purchase those properties. We're not necessarily issuing building permits in that area. We're actually going through and sign up for the grant, so we can purchase out their homes. This is really the ability to do repairs is limited in that area because of where it exists."

While this is all ongoing, Shawn says, "This is a memory that I will never forget. It's just been just truly devastating."

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