Men wearing white protective suits and brandishing chemical spray bottles roamed Suzy Donnelly’s basement Monday.
There was a sickening familiarity to the scene.
Three years ago, when the “big storm” clobbered her vintage stucco home in Berwyn, she was forced to tear out the basement. On Monday, workers carted out basement doors, cabinets and other water-logged woodwork.
“It’s really, really heartbreaking because I’ve been under construction constantly,” said Donnelly, 49.
About 5 inches of sewage water swirled in Donnelly’s basement after a deluge Sunday that soaked Berwyn and Cicero with about 9 inches of rain — most of it falling in a six-hour span, according to the National Weather Service.
The storm dumped about 3.4 inches at O’Hare Airport and about 4.7 inches at Midway Airport, said Kevin Birk, a weather service meteorologist based in Romeoville.
“It just so happened that those storms … stayed very steady over the city, just kept kind of redeveloping and moving over the same areas,” Birk said.
The weather service doesn’t keep official historical records for Berwyn and Cicero, but Sunday’s rain total there came close to Chicago’s all-time record of 9.35 inches, which fell Aug. 13-14 in 1987.
Chicago’s 311 system received more than 2,000 complaints of “water in basement” and “water in street” on Sunday. That’s the highest volume of flooding complaints received on a single day since 2019, the earliest year such 311 data is available from the city’s data portal.
By Monday afternoon hundreds more calls about flooded basements and streets had come in to 311, city officials said.
Austin sees 1 in 4 basement flooding complaints
Complaints were concentrated on the city’s Northwest and West sides. One in four basement flooding complaints on Sunday came from Austin.
Before touring West Side homes and sites affected by the flooding, Mayor Brandon Johnson said “it’s going to take all of us” to recover.
“We need as many people to step up and demonstrate what Chicagoans do all the time,” Johnson told reporters. “We put our arms around one another, we support each other and we come up with solutions to make sure that we’re prepared.”
Johnson said Sunday’s record rainfall was likely not the last example of extreme weather to strike the city due to “failed policies of the past that have left the environment vulnerable.”
Additional resources will be available through the Fourth of July holiday to help West Side residents with flooding.
“We certainly realize the impact and the damage that it causes not only [physically and financially], but the mental damage that it’s going to cause as well,” Chief of Staff Rich Guidice said.
There was minimal damage to Johnson’s West Side home, but Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said she had over 3 feet of water in her residence.
“People think that aldermen can do everything,” Mitts said. “I’m dealing with the same pain and suffering that all of my constituents are dealing with right now.”
ComEd reported 26,800 customers with power outages, all of which had been restored by Monday morning.
There were reports in the Chicago area of knee-high water in some basements.
Denise Abbott, 65, who has lived in her Austin bungalow for 22 years, said she’d never seen anything quite like the flooding she experienced Sunday. When the rain first began seeping into her basement, she put on a pair of ankle boots. The water receded slightly, she said. But then it began pouring in — to the point where she had to put on rain boots.
“I try to look at the positive side — I didn’t live down there,” said Abbott, estimating she had as much as a foot-and-a-half of murky water in her basement.
She had five fans going in the basement to try to drive out the moisture Monday. Abbott is retired. She’s a Jehovah’s Witness and had planned to spread the word about God on Monday.
“But I’m just so tired,” she said.
A few doors down, Grace Esther, 46, wore a pair of blue latex gloves. A sharp odor of bleach lingered in the air. A soaked couch stood on end in the backyard Monday. Esther hoped it might be salvaged. But many more things would have to be thrown away, she said.
“When I see the mess, I don’t know what I can do, because I am losing so many things,” Esther said.
She said she and her family bought the home in 2019 after being told it was not located in a flood zone.
More storms Wednesday?
Back in Berwyn, Donnelly could take solace in knowing exactly how to handle the flooding this time. She didn’t wait. She immediately called the contractor who made her repairs back in 2020.
Last time, she paid $35,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. She doesn’t yet have an estimate for the latest repairs.
“I feel like I keep ending up in construction mode in a place that was supposed to be the perfect single-family home,” she said.
The weather service was predicting more storms late Wednesday.
“We do have a little bit of a risk of some severe storms with that, and there could also be a brief period of heavy rain, but it does not look like it will be a significant rainfall event for the area,” Birk said.
Contributing: Amy Qin, a data reporter for WBEZ