For as many years as Strnad can remember, the Belmont-Cragin area of Chicago continually flooded. During the past 20 years his basement had flooded on numerous occasions. Despite calls to the Mayors Office (312) 744-5000 to complain, the sewer remained a problem. The city would send out a representative from the Sewer Department to look at the sewer. That's all they did, he recalls. "They would open the cover, see some water flowing, and say it looks ok. Must be a problem with the pipes leading to your house. When was the last time you had the sewer roded?
Strnad would get his sewer roded every year but the same results occurred every year - a flooded basement. Of course some floods were worse than others but the devistation was always the same. It really doesn't matter whether you have 2" of sewer water or 12". The cleanup process is the same for either amount and because you are dealing with sewer deposits you must use special cleaners to kill the germs and bacteria that can form.
In 1996 Strnad again flooded. This marks 19 years of flooding for him. After talking with some of his neighbors to see how bad their basements faired it was decided that two people would go to the alderman to seek help. This was decided after Strnad again filed a complain with the Mayors Office and they suggested talking to the local alderman, whose name shall not be mentioned because Sam Burrell probably would not like it.
Meeting with Alderman
The year was 1996 when Wayne Strnad and Juan Rivera finally meet with the alderman of the 29th ward. We say finally because the alderman ignored three appointments that were made with his secretary, after looking over his schedule. Each appointment was set at least one week in advance. Neither he, nor his secretary, had the decency to call and cancel an appointment.
"We meet the alderman on the fourth such occasion, not via appointment, but simply coming into his office unannounced and sitting down in anticipation of a long wait," Strnad says. He finally showed up.
In this meeting he announced that he would work on a capital gains proposal to get new sewers. He would also address the gang problem that was starting to develop.
Strnad and Rivera went back to their community to report the results of their meeting with the alderman.
March of 1997 Strnad complains to Mayors Office Again
By now it has almost become a religious event. Every year in March, April or May Strnad calls the Mayors Office to have them check out the sewers. This time the Mayors Office suggests that they send out a super vacuum machine. Here is how it looks.
In July the city finally sent the machine out to clean the sewers. When Strnad asked one of the workers about a camera they can put down the sewer, the worker said that would require a special work order.
As you can see from the photo above, the machine has a long black flexible pipe that extends into the sewer. Don't be mislead into thinking this pipe extends very far. It only cleans directly below and was not designed to go any further.
The Hundred Year Storm gets Beat
The last time people were hit very hard was about 10 years ago. At that time city officials claimed it was a hundred year storm; meaning that such storms only come at 100 year intervals. Well, guess what. The hundred year storm arrived 90 years too soon.
The Great Chicago Flood
Many residents that were talked to after the 100 year storm said they had a couple of feet of water in their basement. There was a great deal of property damage on the Northwest side of Chicago. However, people seemed to believe what the city officials were telling them at that time, so, no action was taken by the community.
On August 16, 1998 the afternoon sky turned into dark gray puffy clouds. At first it looked like other rain clouds but as time passed the clouds took on a darker, more powerful appearance. As they rolled across the sky they would pass other clouds and collide giving one heck of a lighting show. Then came the rain....Lot's of it.
The sewers handled it all for the first few hours and then the water started to linger around the CB's (catch basins located by the curb). It got higher and higher until it spilled over the sidewalk.
If you were to look in your back yard you would see nothing but water. Reports of 4" were common.
Then the sewer water started to come into people's basements. Many people not only had water from the sewer but also through the foundation. It was sewer water + rain water; a double wammy. And if you had a legal basement, meaning an entrance in front and back, then the water came in through both entrances.
Strnad labeled this flood the Great Chicago Flood because of the amount of destruction it left in its wake. Three feet of sewer water in the basement was very common. Reports of 6' in basements on Fullerton Avenue were also common.
After the rains left the cleanup began. It was really a sad thing because this flooding should never have happened in the first place. Many people have been complaining for years with little or no results.
The destruction was so bad that FEMA was sent in to investigate and evaluate the amount of damage.