Updated 04/19/13 – 6:44 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — The surging Des Plaines River has overwhelmed the town of Forest View, flooding the vast majority of the area, and prompting a massive evacuation.
WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports about 90 percent of the community is flooded and nearly 700 people are being evacuated by boat, after the river spilled over its banks and gushed almost a mile to the east.
Originally, authorities thought a levee broke, but Village Administrator Frank Yurka later said they believe there was just too much water, and it went over a 20 foot high berm.
Firefighters from Forest View and surrounding communities helped rescue residents using red inflatable rafts with gas motors.
Chris Dumas tried to stick it out, but by 2:30 Friday afternoon, the World War II veteran realized it was time move. Firefighters pulled him from his home, which was underwater, back to dry land.
He said he decided to leave “when my lights went out, and I was not going to go in the basement to turn on the electrical, because you might as well call a funeral director to get my cadaver.”
Dumas has lived Forest View most of his life, and said he’s never seen it this bad.
“Well, I’m used to airplane crashes and surviving World War II,” he said, not levee breaches.
Forest View Village President Richard Grenvich described the situation in the village as “unbelievably horrible.”
“I mean, it’s hard to describe what the water had done over the past 18 hours or so,” said Grenvich.
He said he learned the water was headed toward his village around 9 p.m. Thursday. Evacuations started soon after in the village of about 700 people.
Evacuations in Forest View have not been mandatory, but as more and more residents lose power, they’ve been opting to leave their homes behind for the next couple of days.
Among the damaged properties is the village’s five-year-old fire station and new 911 center.
Deputy Fire Chief Randy Kappmeyer said they have about two feet of water in the fire house but were able to rescue all but one vehicle – an ambulance.
Frank Mamolella said his sister called him, hysterical, and saying the river was coming.
“I couldn’t put it together that it was the Des Plaines River, because we’re so far east from it. We’re over a mile east of the river, and when I came down the street, and I saw the water gushing down 46th Street, it looked like somebody ruptured something,” he said.
He raced over to his childhood home and, after three hours, had to give up trying to stop the water from coming in. He said he’s worried about family possessions inside his childhood home, which is now underwater.
“That’s all our memories. It’s wiping out my family’s history, and also all our furniture and memorabilia,” Mamolella said.
Yurka said village crews were going to attempt to divert the river south on Harlem Avenue using concrete barriers, so that the flow would go away from waterlogged homes.
If there is a bright side to this, it’s that the Des Plaines River has crested here as of Friday morning, so residents were hoping to be able to get back into their homes within a day or two.