AROMA PARK — Kathleen Slavin watched as emergency responders paddled their way toward Ryan's Pier restaurant Thursday, checking a handful of roughly 200 homes that have been damaged by flooding.
"This is the worst it's been since my family bought the Pier in 1985," Slavin said with a sigh, then lifting her shoulders to show a stoic grin. "Unless you sandbag the whole block, there's nothing you can do."
The situation worsened overnight, as rising waters covered Waldron Road at Shannon Road on the western edge of the village and forced the closure of the thoroughfare, which generally is considered the main entryway into Aroma Park.
"The water came completely over the road,'' Chad Gessner, director of the Kankakee County Emergency Management Agency, said this morning. "It came up another 3 to 4 feet.''
But as several residents pointed out, enduring and managing floods is part of living next to a river. Many had sump pumps spouting water out of their basements, and sandbags covered their welcome mats at their front doors.
Others already had evacuated their homes, taking whatever belongings they could, as they prepared to stay with friends and family.
"The residents are doing what they have to do," Aroma Park Fire Chief Luke Shepherd said. "They are working. They are keeping the water flowing. They are getting out. They are in good spirits. Nobody has been down about it. Everyone is doing what Americans do. When we are hit with something, we go to task and get it done."
Flooding from the Iroquois River has pounded through the small village of about 700 people. The Iroquois flows into the Kankakee River at Aroma Park. Residents have been tracking the Iroquois River's levels at Chebanse, hoping for it to crest sooner rather than later.
The river reached 19.6 feet by Thursday afternoon, which is 3.6 feet above its flood stage. The National Weather Service projects the river to rise up to 22.9 feet at Chebanse before cresting this afternoon. That would exceed the March 1979 record flood level of 21.7 feet.
Forecasts project the river to dip below its flood stage by Sunday night. Residents are prepared to endure it until then.
"We are getting through it fine," said 18-year-old Kinley Zeedyk, who evacuated her home to stay with her grandparents. "We are used to it. The pumps are keeping up. You just have to deal with it when you live by the river."
On Thursday, boat crews from Aroma Park, Kankakee and Bourbonnais deployed to check on and evacuate people from the 200 homes that have been affected. ComEd and Nicor crews accompanied them to turn off utilities.
Aroma Park emergency responders on Wednesday night pulled two people from homes on Sandbar Road and Dudley Grove Road. Boat crews also evacuated an elderly woman and a family Thursday afternoon.
"Some homes are completely surrounded by water," Gessner said. "Our top priority is life safety. ... We are teaming with the community and the rest of Kankakee County to put everything back together here."
The Aroma Park Fire Protection District has been providing sandbag sleeves, which can be filled at the former Aroma Park Primary School building. It also is providing shelter a couple hours at a time so residents can find more permanent places to stay.
Gessner said Kankakee County likely will not reach the point of a countywide disaster. The Kankakee River already has crested at Momence, and the majority of the homes affected in Aroma Park are covered by insurance.
In the meantime, emergency responders are prepared to keep working until the flood subsides and beyond.
"I always compare past floods to the 1979 flood, where there were 13 inches of water at the Aroma Park Boat Club," Shepherd said. "We are nowhere near that right now. We just have to keep at it."