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Continuing Thaw, Thursday Rain Threaten Flooding, Roof Damage

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(CBS) – Chicago area residents were rushing to get roofs clear of ice dams, and shovel ice and snow away from storm drains and catch basins on Wednesday, as the heavy snow cover continues to melt, with rain on the way.

Chicago Water Management Department crews have been working to keep sewer drains and catch basins clear of packed snow, ice, and debris; so that water can drain properly when snow and ice begin to melt as temperatures rise.

In Chicago, there are so many catch basins and storm drains to check for blockage, the city has vastly increased the number of workers checking those drains.

In the Irving Park neighborhood, city crews had to pump water off the street and sidewalk at the bottom of a set of stairs from a Metra train station, after six inches of water pooled due to melting snow and ice.

Between 150 and 200 city workers were deployed on Wednesday to clear clogged storm drains and catch basins, up to eight times as many workers as the city normally has cleaning those drains on any given day.

Even with those extra crews, Water Management Commissioner Tom Powers said the city still needs help from residents to keep drains clear, as there are approximately 250,000 catch basins throughout the city.

City officials also were asking residents to run a trickle of water from faucets in their home, to prevent frozen pipes. Although temperatures outside are above freezing, the ground is still frozen up to 16 inches deep, and cold enough to freeze underground pipes.

People living along local rivers also have been keeping a close eye on water levels, as melting snow threatens to swell waterways past flood stage – especially with rain likely on Thursday, adding to the amount of water flowing into the rivers.

CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, after just one day of above-freezing temperatures, it’s already too late for some in the Chicago area to avoid water damage from the thaw.

Showalter Roofing Service in west suburban Warrenville was scrambling to keep up with all the service calls – at least 90 of them on Wednesday alone – virtually all of them related to damage from ice dams. With all the snow that has fallen this winter, the gutters at many buildings have become clogged with ice.

That ice can end up seeping inside a building when it melts, if the downspouts on gutters are blocked, and the water has nowhere else to go.

Ice dams typically are the result of improper insulation. When heat escapes a building up through the roof, it causes snow to melt, and when temperatures outside drop low enough, it freezes again, and creates an ice barrier.

Workers at Showalter and other roofing companies cut through ice dams with axes — sometimes also using boiling water or steam — to chop up the ice collected on roofs and in gutters, and stop any leaking inside homes and businesses.

Homeonwer Katie Porter found water dripping down the column in her kitchen on Monday, as well as in her living room. That dripping got worse on Tuesday as temperatures outside climbed above freezing, speeding up the melting caused by the heat inside.

“The water doesn’t have anywhere to go, so the water’s now backing up into the walls, and into the roof,” said C.J. Martin, a roofer at Showalter. “It’s leaking in a pillar above her kitchen area, and that’s because of the heat and everything. The water, simply, that’s where it’s found the path to go to leak into her home.”

Porter said, with rain in the forecast on Thursday, if she doesn’t get rid of the ice on her roof, the problem will get that much worse.

“If we don’t get rid of the ice, and all the damming, it’s just going to pool on top of the roof,” she said. “Your ceilings get damaged, your floors get damaged. It’s just a big mess, and I don’t want to do it again.”

Just because an ice dam has formed on your roof doesn’t mean you will get a leak. There’s no specific solution to avoiding ice damming. It has nothing to do with the age of your home, but whether the roof is properly insulated so you don’t have heat loss.

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