(Adds rescues; new closures; new flight cancellations)
By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO, April 18 Heavy rains and flooding
brought havoc to the Chicago area on Thursday, shutting
expressways, delaying commuter trains, cancelling flights,
flooding basements and closing many suburban schools.
The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings
lasting into the evening for the entire Chicago area. Between
three and seven inches of rain fell throughout the area in the
last 24 hours and more was expected, and area rivers continued
to rise, according to the weather service.
Flooding shut parts of three major expressways in and out of
the city Thursday morning. Many arterial streets and highway
ramps remained blocked Thursday afternoon, and police
recommended that people limit travel, if possible, during the
Major flooding was affecting parts of Des Plaines, Fox,
Illinois and DuPage rivers, according to the weather service.
The north branch of the Chicago River is already at levels not
seen since the major flooding of September 2008, the service
Governor Pat Quinn declared a state of emergency for
"Our experts at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources
are very concerned about the next few days, that certain rivers
in our state are at record levels with respect to flooding that
we've never seen before," Quinn told a news conference in the
Chicago suburb of Elmhurst.
Chicago-area residents have posted photos on social media
sites like Facebook of people paddling canoes and inflatable
rafts along residential streets. The Chicago Department of Water
Management was working to control flooding along the Chicago
River on the city's northwest side, using sandbags and setting
up concrete barriers.
"This has been an extraordinary storm," said Tom Powers, the
O'Hare International Airport reported 600 flight
cancellations Thursday afternoon. Brookfield Zoo, just west of
Chicago, closed for only the third time in its 79-year history
due to the weather.
The DuPage County Sheriff's Office was using boats to
evacuate people from an apartment complex in a western suburb of
Chicago. No injuries were reported at the complex.
ComEd, a division of Exelon, reported 8,210 Chicago-area
customers without power on Thursday afternoon, down from 21,000,
according to spokeswoman Krissy Posey.
On the city's South Side, a sinkhole swallowed three cars on
a residential street. One person was hospitalized with
non-life-threatening injuries, police said. City officials
blamed a 98-year-old old water main that gave out.
In suburban Oak Brook, a body was found floating in the
Salt Creek River. The DuPage County Sheriff's Office had no
further information about the death. The suburb got nearly 7
inches of rain in 24 hours, the most in Illinois, according to
the National Weather Service.
The stormy weather was also affecting other parts of the
country, including West, Texas, where emergency workers were
responding to a fiery, fatal explosion at a fertilizer plant.
A risk of severe thunderstorms was predicted into the
evening on Thursday for parts of Mississippi, Arkansas,
Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana, according to the NWS
Storm Prediction Center.
A spokesman for Metra, the Chicago commuter rail service,
said three Union Pacific lines suffered severe delays due to a
loss of power at a "complex set of switches" outside a major
downtown train station after a lightning strike.
A multi-car accident on I-294 in Cook County resulted in two
fatalities early on Thursday, according to Illinois State
Police. It was not immediately known if the accident was
weather-related, but it had been raining heavily at the time.
NWS meteorologist Amy Seeley said the amount of rain was
"unusual" for the Chicago area, even for April, usually a rainy
The weather was starting to clear up - with light rains
predicted the rest of the day and on Friday, Seeley said.
Temperatures were expected to plunge to a low of 33 degrees
Friday, from 62 degrees Thursday afternoon.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski and Nick Carey; Editing by
Colleen Jenkins, Gunna Dickson, Kevin Gray, Sofina Mirza-Reid
and Cynthia Johnston)