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'Phenomenal event' floods Chicago

BY HENRY BRIER | CHICAGO | August 4, 2001

After suffering through a major heat wave earlier in the week Chicago residents were surprised Thursday morning with a drenching storm that flooded streets and highways and caused widespread power outages.

"It was a phenomenal event," said Patrick McPherson, disaster services director for the metropolitan division of the Salvation Army in Chicago.

Between 7 and 10 a.m. Thursday, 3.5 inches of rain soaked the city, according to Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the mayor's office. The brunt of the rain fell between 8 and 9:30 a.m.

City officials said Friday they were assessing damages and would consider requesting a federal disaster declaration.

"We have been in contact with the state and the state talked with the city about flooding," said Linda Sacia, a spokeswoman from the Federal Emergency Management Agency office in Chicago. "Our involvement has not started."

The city received 2,700 phone calls stating basements were flooded, At the storm's height, more than 57,000 households were out of power, but by Friday power had been restored to nearly all of the homes.  The American Red Cross opened one shelter, and both it and the Salvation Army supplied clean-up kits. However, McPherson said, inquiries were surprisingly rare by mid-day Friday.

Previously, the city - as well as other areas of the Midwest - was in the midst of a heat wave, cloaked with humidity.

Chicago had experienced 14 heat-related deaths as a result of the heat wave, officials said. The temperature hovered in the mid-90s, and the heat index was up to 110.

"The rains came at 7 a.m.," Drew said. "It was just a tremendous amount of rain in such a short period of time."

The morning commute, already congested, became even more entangled shortly after the skies opened.

Both Chicago airports - O'Hare and Midway - had two-hour delays, four railways and several metro stations were closed, Drew said. Two hundred flights were cancelled.

Public transportation bus routes were re-directed, the Museum of Science and Industry closed, 85 stalled vehicles had to be rescued from roadways by the end of the morning, he said.

The Deep Tunnel, whose purpose is to collect floodwater in the city, absorbed 1.6 billion gallons of water in one hour, prompting officials to open a lock and release the water into Lake Michigan.

"There was no one area that got more drenched than another," Drew said. "Calls came from all over."

Later in the day, as the floodwater was drained, the life of the city returned to normal, he said.

Friday's weather in Chicago helped the city dry out, Drew said. It was sunny and the temperature hovered around 81 degrees.

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