Remembering the Floods of 1996

Those that lived in Aurora in 1996 remember the devastation and damage that was caused by severe flooding from July 18 to July 20, 1996. Most of us still share the stories of watching our basements and homes fill up with water, seeing kids literally swimming in the streets, and helping each other remove lost contents from our homes, and piling stacks of sopping wet garbage on the curb for garbage trucks to take away.

Record Flooding Devastates Aurora, IL and Surrounding Cities

Kishwaukee River Flood in Illinois
Source: Wikipedia

The record flooding occurred due to large amounts of rain that fell over just a couple days. Local creeks, streams, and rivers overflowed, sending rivers of water into our communities and neighborhoods. For many, the sewage also began backing up into basements and homes as the local sanitation departments had no where to send the sewage once the rivers grew so high, along with the combination of storm and sanitary drainage systems which became flooded with rain water, leaving very little room for sewage and forcing the water to seek any place it go, leading it directly into our basements.

According to the US Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Water Resources;

“Record rainfall amounts over 16 in. were reported for the 24-hour period ending at 7:00 a.m. on July 18, 1996, in northern Illinois. These amounts resulted from several subsequent thunderstorms tracking along the same west to east stalled low-pressure front. This rainfall produced record flooding in highly urbanized northern Illinois (fig. 1) from July 18 through July 20, 1996. This flooding caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage and two deaths (Chicago Tribune, July 21 and July 26, 1996). Numerous houses were inundated (fig. 2), and roadway infrastructure in the area was damaged as many roads and bridges were washed out. Three dams in the region experienced complete failure, whereas numerous other dams were overtopped experiencing varying degrees of damage.

It wasn’t just Illinois that was affected. In fact, the Illinois Governor Jim Edgar declared a state of disaster for 15 northern Illinois. It didn’t take long for President Clinton to make most of those counties Federal disaster areas, as well.

Below is a video taken in a nearby city, Sugar Grove, which shows the extent of the flooding and water damage. This was the reality for many Northern Illinois residents in July of 1996:

The Aftermath: Cleaning Up the City

After the water drained from the streets and the rivers and streams began to return to their normal levels, millions of residents and businesses had to begin rebuilding. While insurance adjusters went from home to home to help their customers and get them their funds as quickly as possible so they could pay for their cleanup and restorations, millions of homeowners were left to restore on their own since they didn’t have the proper flood insurance needed to cover the damages.

We spoke with one local water damage restoration worker in the area who said, ” we’re located in Elgin, IL, about 20 miles north of Aurora but we’re seeing restoration companies coming from dozens of states to help homeowners remove the existing water in the their homes, ensure no mold will be growing in their house, and to help them dry out their homes and property. It’s great to see so many people coming together to help each other and get this great city back up and running.”

With billions of dollars of damages to the area and plenty of insurance and FEMA money available to help affected homeowners, many damage restoration and construction businesses came to the area to assist the local clean up.

Rebuilt – Back to Normal

It took many years, and some areas still show signs of the damage caused by the flooding in July of 1996 but, as a whole, the city of Aurora rebuilt and came back better than ever. Much like the Chicago fire that damaged much of the city a century ago, this disaster brought the city of Aurora together and helped make Aurora the great city it is today.