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One year after flood, area is more prepared

MORRIS – The newly poured concrete wall lining the walkway to Morris Hospital’s emergency room doesn’t look like much, but the 4-foot-tall barrier could be the hospital’s saving grace this flood season.

Exactly one year ago today, the hospital – and several other areas of Grundy County – experienced devastating flooding. The April 18, 2013, flood was the worst in the county’s history with the Illinois River cresting at a record 24.91 feet.

The disaster caused more than $3 million in damages to Morris Hospital, shut the facility down for 12 days and forced the evacuation of 47 patients, said Mark Steadham, president and CEO of Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers.

About four inches of water stood in the hospital’s lower level, where the cafeteria, laboratory, pharmacy, information services and patient documents are located.

The hospital flooding accelerated after a makeshift sandbag levy located near the hospital’s receiving dock broke and the water poured into the lower level.

If the new concrete wall near the emergency room – and a few other new walls surrounding the facility – had been in place last year, the hospital would have most likely eluded major damages.

Along with the new walls in low-laying areas, the hospital began installing flood gates at the receiving dock – a particularly vulnerable area – just this week.

“Through this flood, we learned how important Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers is to our community,” Steadham said. “Out of this experience, we’ve taken the steps to ensure Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers will always be there for our community.”

One year later, the hospital is not the only flood victim that has adjusted and prepared since last year’s flood, which is estimated to have cost state, local and federal governments roughly $15 million in damages, Grundy County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Lutz said.

In the last year, the city of Morris has made several improvements to the underground storm and creek drainage system, with more improvements on the way.

The city also recently partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on a project to repair the historic I & M Canal aqueduct, which collapsed during last April’s flood.

The IDNR has proposed to demolish and replace the aqueduct with a structure that has a larger opening to minimize the potential for future flooding or blockages.

“Based on a hydrology and hydraulics analysis of the area, IDNR has indicated that a wider opening will reduce the chances of backwater flood flows on Nettle Creek,” said Cassie Ringsdorf, FEMA Region V external affairs representative.

The flood forced hundreds of Grundy County residents to evacuate their homes, some of which are not yet fully repaired one year later.

“We are still working on projects from that flood,” Lutz said. “In some areas up by Aux Sable, we could be working for the next three years.”

Houses near Minooka and Tabler roads were some of the most devastated and several of those homeowners are involved in a Hazard Mitigation Project sponsored by FEMA, IEMA and Grundy County.

Through the voluntary program, residents have agreed to let the government purchase their homes so they can be torn down and the land left vacant forevermore.

Because the area was so badly damaged last year and is expected to experience more chronic flooding in the future, the government estimates it will save money by leaving the land barren rather than paying for emergency evacuations and flood insurance every year.

Lutz said despite the progress that has been made, more extensive planning and mitigation will be needed.

“There’s got to be some balance between where we build houses and flood plains,” he said. “There’s no question that as we get more populated and developed, the water gets to you quicker and with more violence.”

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