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Marseilles residents prepare for evacuation

Dan Fessler was helping move his mother-in-law out of her Marseilles home early Wednesday morning along with assistance from his brother, Keith.

The pair stopped at her house on Broadway Street after the city issued a mandatory evacuation for residents south of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and east of Main Street, which includes Mill Street.

Fessler estimates it’s the fourth time they’ve had to help his mother-in-law move who is in her 70s.

“Hopefully she’ll move up the hill,” Fessler joked.

The pair took out mattresses, cabinets, a mirror, washers and dryers and hauled them into an enclosed trailer.

Fessler hopes it’s precautionary, but the family didn’t want to take the chance.

A few blocks down, Beth Scutt and Mary Kiftenfeger were loading a grill onto a smaller trailer.

The water levels had not come near her home as of 9:30 a.m., but Scutt wasn’t about to take any risks after earlier floods.

“After you haul all of your life’s stuff in the mud you start to get a little gun-shy,” she said, referring to the 2013 flood.

Scutt said she was told to evacuate from her home by 2 p.m. and that no one would be allowed back into her neighborhood after that time.

She also said she’s hoping the evacuation is only precautionary but a watermark above a doorknob on a patio door remains as a reminder of how high the water was in 2013.

“I never thought it would happen again,” Scutt said. 

Projected level just shy of a foot from 2013

Police Chief Jim Hovious said around 80 percent of residents in the affected area are complying with the mandatory evacuation, which consists of around 200 homes.

Hovious said projections show the water level rising to nearly a foot shy of where it was in 2013.

The city watches water levels in Morris after the drive gauge in Marseilles was washed out before the flood in 2013 hit. The city knows how the height of the river in Morris correlates to levels in Marseilles and what the dam will handle.
The nearby dike has been repaired to its original height, but Hovious reiterated that it’s only supposed to be for navigation and not flood control.

Water has currently passed the first dam on the Illinois River and has reached the non-operational gates by the power plant. Whether or not the gates themselves were operational won’t matter if the water goes over the top.
“It’ll fill up quickly and once that fills up we’re concerned the water will backflow into the affected area for 2013,” Hovious said.

The area is too large to sandbag, which has left the city in “wait and see” mode.

Hovious said the river is expected to crest between 6 p.m. Wednesday and midnight Thursday and stay at that stage for eight to 10 hours. A conference call with Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, and the flood coalition has led to some hope with new information that the crest of the river may be lower than expected.

'That's what you get for living close to the river'
John Aquino stood on his porch with his dog Abby and talked with neighbors about the rising water levels.

Aquino moved items around in the house to higher elevations but didn’t have specific plans for evacuation yet.

“When the water starts coming up, that’s when I leave,” Aquino said.
He recalls a number of voluntary evacuations in the past since 2013 where the water levels did not reach his home. He said he has plans to take Abby and his two cats to Fox Valley Veterinary Clinic in Ottawa if he is forced to evacuate by Mother Nature.

Aquino said he had the opportunity to leave after the flood in 2013, but stayed.

“That’s what you get for living close to the river,” Aquino said.

He had a sign on his porch that read “9th Ward” in reference to the neighborhood in New Orleans devastated during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Bruce Boaz, assistant fire chief, was traveling door to door with firefighter Brian Hefner to check on residents and get a tally of who was planning to stay and who was leaving.

The evacuation is mandatory for all residents, but the city still wanted to learn how many residents planned to remain in the area and get their contact information.

Boaz said a majority planned to leave, but some were going to wait until later to determine whether it was worth staying in the area.

The Lions Club, 511 Commercial St., and American Legion, 571 Rutland St., are taking in displaced residents.

Boaz said the city was trying to be proactive in getting residents out of the area before nightfall.

Hovious said officials will attempt to make contact with those remaining in the area when more information comes in and he expects they will depart if the worst occurs.

He said the water level continues to rise and he hopes residents will heed the precautionary measures the city is putting into place.

“We are obviously hopeful there is no water,” Hovious said. “We’re hopeful it’s a preventative measure and we know it’s an inconvenience for the people down there. We understand that and we don’t take it lightly. Obviously, in 2013 there was no loss of life or serious injury and that is our goal again.”

"Mother Nature is here and we have to react to her," he added.

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