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Illinois communities brace as rain-swollen rivers rise

February 23, 1997

ERIE, Ill. (AP) _ Some 200 to 250 people evacuated their homes Sunday after the rain-swollen Rock River broke through a levee, while residents braced for flooding along the Illinois River in the heart of the state.

Record rainfall, as much as 4 inches in some places, helped push the Illinois near flood level and state officials distributed 130,000 sandbags on Friday. Much of the flooding was confined to farm fields.

``If it goes up another 2 feet, low-lying park areas will be flooded around Peoria Heights,″ said Chris Geelhart of the National Weather Service.

In Erie, about 25 miles northeast of Moline, fire officials said several boat and helicopter rescues took place along the Rock River, but they had gotten out everyone who wanted out.

``You’ve got some die-hards that want to stay with their homes,″ said Randy Shaffer, an emergency medical technician.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency’s Chris Tamminga said the water wasn’t flooding living quarters yet, but many people had basement flooding.

The Rock flows across Illinois’ northwest, from Rockford, near the Wisconsin line, southwesterly to its confluence with the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities of Rock Island, Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline.

Residents forced out of 100 mobile homes when the Kishwaukee River overflowed Friday in Sycamore, about 25 miles southeast of Rockford, were still out Sunday but the water level was falling, officials said.

On Sunday morning, the Illinois was highest at LaSalle, 30.9 feet, more than 10 feet above flood stage, after rising another 2.3 feet overnight. The river has flooded in each of the last two years and in 1993.