A Run on Sump Pumps as Cleanup Begins in Chicago Flood Aftermath

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A line of customers was already waiting when store manager Janien Murphy arrived to open Park Ace Hardware before 8 a.m. Thursday.

By noon, the Tinley Park store had sold out of portable pumps and had only two sump pumps in stock.

"The people just look frazzled. You're always frazzled when you have water in your basement," Murphy said.

"I have never seen anything like it. We have had flooding before, but not like this, I guess."

Long lines in the sump pump aisles were a minor grievance for some homeowners as the cleanup began in sodden basements across the region. Fatigue was setting in for many who had suffered through a sleepless Wednesday night only to spend Thursday cataloging their ruined possessions and calling backlogged contractor and insurance agents. The aftermath can take months, a fact Melissa Frank-McGivney knows all too well.

Frank-McGivney and her husband gutted their Elmhurst basement to make repairs after heavy flooding in 2010.

Water again began seeping in their basement windows Wednesday, but their sump pump appeared to be keeping up as the rain subsided slightly by evening. They called a contractor that night, who ripped out a few feet of drywall and insulation, sprayed underneath to prevent mold and left behind fans and dehumidifiers.

Then the sump pump failed.

"I thought, 'We're gonna make it. We're not going to lose everything,'" Frank-McGivney said. "And then all of a sudden the water was just creeping up our ankles."

The water in the basement crested at about 4 feet. The contractor they had called the night before, and all the other contractors they tried to reach, were too busy to help Thursday morning. Their street was underwater and impassable anyway, Frank-McGivney said.

By afternoon, the basement water level had subsided to a few pools of standing water, and everything that had been below the water line was coated with a thin film of brown dirt.

Thursday marked the fourth time the basement of Lorna Wise's Albany Park home has flooded since she moved there in 1974.

Wise, 70, said she spent the day watching her neighbors wade through thigh-deep water to stack sandbags. Wise said she no longer can afford to renovate the basement and wondered how her contractor would react to the damage.

"Now he really has something to clean up," she said.

An ankle-deep mixture of stormwater and sewage gathered in the basement of Erin Arnold's Wilmette home early Thursday. Her husband and a family friend helped remove the carpet and salvage as many personal effects as possible.

"There's for sure an incredible bacteria load that's down here," she said. "We've never had water in our basement; for us to not just get water but sewage water is obviously very disgusting and upsetting."

Plainfield resident Chad Eckman did laundry in his basement Wednesday and left it there overnight.

"All my clothes, stupid me," he said. "I left everything down there. It's all underwater."


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