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Residents on Kankakee River evacuate after ice jam break causes major flooding in Wilmington, Illinois

Major flooding risk after ice jam breaks along Kankakee River near Wilmington, Illinois
Major flooding risk after ice jam breaks along Kankakee River near Wilmington, Illinois 01:54

WILMINGTON, Ill. (CBS) -- More than a dozen residents along the Kankakee River in Will County were evacuated after an ice jam break caused significant flooding in Wilmington.

A Flash Flood Warning was in effect for Will and Grundy counties, specifically Wilmington, until 9:15 a.m. on Saturday. The ice jam break caused the river to rise about 3 feet, threatening areas between Wilmington and Phelan Acres.

Rescue teams had to be deployed, and 14 people were evacuated from the area. Officials said about 200 homes along the river are at risk.


On Friday morning, Will County officials reported flooding in Wilmington's North and South Island area, which has some homes, a few businesses, and two parks. Officials said the flooding occurred "suddenly."  Authorities sent alerts to residents on their phones.

Then, as of 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Will County officials said the ice jams had cleared the river, but water levels remained high. The City of Wilmington also issued a citywide boil order out of an abundance of caution on Friday with no determined end date.

Will County officials announced the closure of a section of Route 53, which bisects the island, amid the flooding.

Later on Friday afternoon, the county announced the major roadway was open to traffic, but it could close again depending on the river conditions.

But downstream, the damage was already done in Phelan Acres, a subdivision northwest of downtown Wilmington. Homes and cars there were flooded and streets were still coated in thick ice.

One of the residents who evacuated called the situation "devastating."

Residents evacuate along Kankakee River in Wilmington, Illinois after major flooding 02:33

"I was on my way home from work at about 10:50. I got home, and right here, it [the river] was starting to come up a bit. I decided to come back outside to look, and now it's just flooded," resident Daniel Beck said. "Very bad, it's devastating all these homes." 

Another resident, Julie Schmitke, said she had to be carried during the evacuation. 

"They had to carry me because I have one leg. They had to carry me to a drier room, and I was just waiting there for the ambulance to come and transport me here," Schmitke said.

Between clients at the local salon on Water Street in Wilmington, Debbie Cannolla checked the view from the back balcony.

"In 10 years of working here, I've never seen anything like this before," she said.

On Friday afternoon, Mike Ziga stood at a Kankakee River shoreline as it constantly changed.

"This is an island behind us. This island isn't typically under water," he said as he pointed out a submerged island in the river. "Thinking about everybody that's in the lower elevation on the river down the stream that lives there. Businesses can recoup, but people with homes, it's pretty tough."

Kevin Wilder said his summer house is half a mile down a road of ice.

"We boarded up the windows anticipating ice coming through," he said.

Wilder said it was too dangerous to get to the summer house. But he knew what he wound find.

"It's probably the lowest one on the river," he said. "It floods about every two to three years."

Wilder's house has flooded before – but never his Ford truck. But that has  changed now too.

"Lost a truck back there - an Excursion," he said. "There was ice up to the dash."

About 12 miles of ice jammed up the river, one of the largest ever seen on the Kankakee River, and as it melts, it not only causes flooding along the river, but the remaining chunks of ice could damage buildings and other structures along the river as they begin flowing downstream.

A 24/7 shelter was made available for residents who self-evacuated their homes due to the flooding at First Christian Church in Morris. The Red Cross was operating the shelter.

Doors at the shelter lock at 10 p.m. but access will be permitted at all times. Those in need are asked to knock or call 815-740-0911 for evening admission and if they're arriving with a large group.

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