PONTIAC, Ill. – Cisco Torres and his family of four prepared to take shelter at Trinity Church for a second night after muddy flood waters entered their Watseka home and damaged their two cars.
"Oh it's a mess. We're homeless and vehicle-less," Torres, a construction worker, said on Thursday evening. "I'm just sad. I'm trying to hang in there."
The Torres family was among hundreds forced to evacuate in east-central Illinois after days of heavy rainfall and melting snow caused severe flooding. More than 430 homes, including 235 in Watseka, were evacuated.
The towns hardest hit by the flooding were this Iroquois County community of 6,000 people, where residents left because of flooding from Sugar Creek and the Iroquois River and Pontiac in Livingston County, where about 200 homes were evacuated when the Vermilion River went over its banks.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared the two counties state disaster areas.
"This disaster is of a magnitude that you can never be fully prepared," Watseka Mayor John Weidert said.
Fire Chief David Mayotte said officials used a dozen boats to rescue about 535 residents Wednesday and Thursday.
More than 80 people spent Thursday night at Trinity church in Watseka, about 90 miles south of Chicago.
River levels in the area dropped slightly Thursday after cresting well beyond flood stage the day before to near record levels, meteorologists at the National Weather Service said. At one point, the water was so high, it washed away a recorder monitoring Sugar Creek in Milford.
The Vermilion River in Pontiac, where the flood stage is 14 feet, crested at 18.8 feet Wednesday and stood at 17.7 feet Thursday, said meteorologist Nathan Marsili.
The Iroquois River just upstream of Watseka crested Wednesday morning at 25.7 feet, nearly 8 feet past flood stage, Marsili said. It stood at 25.2 feet Thursday evening, said meteorologist Eric Lenning.
No data on Sugar Creek was available, since the recording device was washed away.
The flooding has been tied to two deaths.
A 24-year-old man died Tuesday morning after being pulled from a submerged vehicle swept from a Paxton road in Ford County into a flooded field. Also, an autopsy has been ordered to determine the cause of death for a 36-year-old Pontiac man who died after going into his flooded basement Wednesday.