Life along the Kankakee River can stress residents at any time of year, but recent ice jams and rapidly melting snow led to an emergency evacuation in a suburban community on Tuesday.
Ice jams are common along the stretch of the river that runs through Kankakee, Will and Grundy counties, and on Tuesday morning the water level began to rise rapidly, prompting officials at a Wilmington subdivision to order a evacuation.
“You never really get used to it,” said Michelle Karczewski, who lives in Phalen Acres. “You always hope it won’t happen, but you know deep down that it will happen, so you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Fortunately, Karczewski and his neighbors didn’t have the worst of it this time around, as residents were allowed to return home around 11 a.m. Tuesday. Even still, the subdivision was still partly underwater, and authorities are closely monitoring the river level as rain and snowmelt continued to impact the area.
“There are a lot of resilient residents who have lived in this area for a long time and know when it’s time to move on,” Wilmington Fire Deputy Chief Todd Friddle said. “Several of them had done it before, but we always have to be ready in case someone gets stuck and we have to go get them.”
No injuries were reported, but forecasters are watching for more ice jams as the cold weather sets in.
“He’s got a lot of power,” Friddle said of the river. “It’s relentless as it moves downhill. Once rain and snowmelt begin to raise river levels, they will lodge against this ice, cause it to break up, and then lock up again at points farther downstream.
The Kankakee River begins in Indiana and flows west and northwest through Illinois, eventually combining with the Des Plaines River to form the Illinois River.
Parts of the Kankakee River are especially prone to ice jams during the winter, with mounds of ice frequently spotted near the bridge that carries Interstate 55 over the water.
Ice jams cause flooding upstream of the blockage, and then can cause rapid flooding downstream once those ice jams move due to warmer weather or additional water coming in from rain or snowmelt.
While Karczewski knows she and her neighbors have avoided the worst flooding this time around, she knows that in winter and spring it’s essential to keep a close eye on any movement on the river.
“You just lifted everything off the ground, as high as you could,” she said. “You just wait for the water to come up and then walk away so you can clean up.”
Wilmington Fire Department officials, along with Will and Grundy County emergency management crews, will continue to monitor water levels until the ice clears from the area.