ROCK FALLS – A frozen pipe burst in the sprinkler system at Civic Plaza II early Saturday morning, eventually forcing the evacuation of all 63 residents.
The call from the low-income apartment complex at 1113 Fifth Ave. came in to the Rock Falls Fire Department about 3:30 a.m., Captain Cris Bouwens said.
“The problem started on the fifth floor, and water was raining down wherever it comes down the floor,” Bouwens said. “There were not only water concerns, but electrical at that point.”
After the power was turned off in the building, a venting issue caused elevated carbon monoxide readings, but Bouwens said it was quickly addressed and never presented danger to the residents.
Bouwen said the pipe froze because of problems with a rooftop heating unit that regulated heat in areas outside of the residents’ rooms, including hallways and the meeting room. The individual rooms have separate heating units that were working.
“They’ve been having issues with that rooftop unit for a while,” Bouwen said.
A call for assistance went out to Lincolnland Red Cross of Rock Falls about 4 a.m., according to volunteer Karen Nelson, the disaster action team leader.
“We had to wait for the inspector and other officials to evaluate the situation, and they decided to evacuate at about 9:30 [a.m.],” Nelson said.
The evacuation was made difficult by the fact that many of the residents are elderly and disabled. The majority of the residents had family or friends to stay with, Nelson said. About 23 needed transportation assistance and temporary shelter.
“It was a long process getting everyone out, but we set up a temporary shelter at the community center before transporting them to the Days Inn in Rock Falls,” Bouwens said.
Residents spent about 4 hours at the community center, where they were fed.
Several agencies were involved in getting the residents, wheelchairs, walkers and oxygen tanks to their destinations.
In addition to the police and fire departments, the Red Cross provided 6 volunteers with others on standby, Whiteside County Health Department sent 2 nurses, and Firehouse Church of God Ministries helped with transportation and delivered two meals to the Days Inn on Sunday.
Firehouse Church Pastor Brian Tribley, who also helped in his firefighting capacity, said Self Help Enterprises helped save the day by providing a wheelchair-accessible bus for transporting the residents the church’s van couldn’t load.
Because many of those transported can’t drive and are on tight budgets, others have stepped up to help with food. Nelson said the hotel provided free breakfast cards, and donations came in from Casey’s General Store, Culvers and County Market.
Nelson said the owners of the building, who are from the Chicago area, are paying for the hotel stays. She said the building manager told her that if all goes according to plan, residents could be moved back in Wednesday.
“Someone is coming in to work on the boiler and sprinkler system on Tuesday, and if they can fix everything right away, they can come in the next day,” she said.