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Dealing with the deluge, and a flood of bad memories

LindKott (foreground) her family haul out furniture from their flooded basement Bradford Street  Cherry Hill subdivisiAurora's far West Side.

Linda Kott (foreground) and her family haul out furniture from their flooded basement on Bradford Street in Cherry Hill subdivision on Aurora"s far West Side.

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Updated: April 25, 2013 11:06AM

There were plenty of nervous people in the Fox Valley watching the rain continue to fall from the skies Thursday. But perhaps no one was as apprehensive as the residents of Sans Souci and Cherry Hill subdivisions on Aurora’s far West Side.

Homes here got hit exceedingly hard in the Flood of ’96, with water reaching to second floors, and transportation in and out of their neighborhoods by boat only.

Tony Vickers was only 10 years old then, but those memories are still fresh. That’s one reason he decided to stay home from work Thursday morning and help his parents keep the water that had flooded their Sans Souci Drive backyard, which backs up to Washington School Park, from going into the basement.

He’d already been waist deep in the dirty water trying to clear out the culverts that were plugged and preventing water from draining properly. He’d even dug trenches on one side of the house to divert the water. His mother Lisa was plenty nervous because the power had gone out and her sump pumps were off, with the back-up batteries sputtering.

“The city did not maintain these culverts properly,” she said, “or we would not be having this issue.”

ComEd crews were out trying to fix a major transmitter probably hit by lightning that had stolen the power from the Vickers’ and a couple dozen other homes in the neighborhood. Also, Fifth Ward Alderman John “Whitey” Peters was making the rounds in both subdivisions, talking to his constituents and trying to get an idea of what went wrong, as more residents complained of flooding in their basements. Across the city, he’d heard there were about 200 homes with similar problems.

“It is certainly not as bad as it was,” said Peters, referring to major improvements done by the city after the ’96 flood. “But I wanted to come out and see what the issues were so we can figure out what else needs to be done.”

The issues seem to be problems with sewer water, not just on the far West Side, but also in the older section of Aurora on the near East Side, where residents were also complaining of basements containing sewer water.

Adam Pruitt, who lives near East Aurora High School, experienced quite a morning. The 22-year-old painter was on his way to work at Sunshine Services on Dorothy Street to grab equipment so he could pump the water out of his basement. But he got caught in flooded traffic at the Eola Road and Montgomery Road intersection.

As “about 10 feet of water” washed up over his red truck, he said, his girlfriend Victoria experienced a serious panic attack. He ended up wiggling his way out of the frozen mass of cars to get her to Rush-Copley Hospital. Once she was OK, Pruitt said, he went home to work on his flooded basement, as well as help his stepfather Mike Danko, who lived a couple doors down and had about four inches of water in his basement.

“What a morning it has been,” Danko agreed. “Still, it was nothing like ’96 when I had 12 to 16 inches in the house.”

Residents on both sides of town agreed this wasn’t anything like that Mother Nature disaster. Still, the water that greeted them Thursday morning seemed to catch everyone by surprise. After all, there had been equally heavy rains since the Big One, yet no huge flooding issues.

John Sudges was just backing out of his driveway on Bradford Drive to head out of town for a business project early Thursday when his wife Shelly came rushing out of the house to stop him.

She’d heard the sump pumps working hard all night long. But when she peered downstairs after getting out of bed, she discovered the entire basement had flooded, with water quickly creeping to the stairs.

“This was not supposed to happen again” with everything the city did after the big flood, she said. “We were very surprised.”

As was Bob Matthews, who found himself up to his thighs in filthy sewer water as he waded through his basement directly behind the Sudges.

“This is miserable,” he said, gladly accepting help from neighbors as he began hooking up a generator and running hoses out of open windows.

Rick Forbes was one of the lucky ones. His Bradford Drive house across the street from the Sudges was dry. But he took off work Thursday anyway to keep an eye on things and to assist his neighbors on all sides who were struggling with flooded homes.

He had four feet of water in his house back in ’96 and he remembers what it was like when everyone pitched in and helped one another.

“This is what we do,” he said simply, after moving a generator and hose to Matthews’ home and helping him hook it up.

Linda Kott, whose beautiful basement was under siege, was also grateful for the assistance, not only from her neighbors, but daughter Kianna, who she’d pulled out of her senior classes at Rosary High School to lend a hand, and ex-husband Nick Afendoulis, who spent the day pulling furniture and other valuables out of the basement that he’d remodeled himself.

Somebody from the city “needs to answer some questions,” he said as he carried out wet bar stools.

Peters admitted he didn’t have those answers as he talked to residents Thursday morning. Some were disgusted, he said, while others were more understanding.

“Obviously the sanitary backup needs to be addressed quickly,” he noted. As for other issues, he promised in the near future a waste pickup for those who were throwing out ruined items and a neighborhood meeting, with a city engineer in attendance.

“A lot of water fell in a short time and it had no place to go,” he said. “Why some houses got hit harder than others, we don’t know.

“But I will find out,” he promised to residents he met with until well into the afternoon. “And I will get back to you.”

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