ROCK FALLS – After a fireman came to the door early Saturday morning, Barbara Morrison had just 15 minutes to grab her medicine and as much as she could carry before she had to evacuate.
Morrison is one of 63 residents of the Civic Plaza II apartment building in Rock Falls who had to evacuate this weekend after a sprinkler system pipe on the east side froze and then burst, flooding the building.
The 68-year-old lives on the top floor, which, she says, along with the first floor, had the most damage.
On Monday, she returned with the building’s manager, Tatum Eckstein, to pack more of her things.
When she’d left, there were boxes and suitcases and totes scattered about her floor - she’d been rearranging furniture. When she returned, it was all gone.
Someone working in the building told her it had been removed to provide better access to the floor which, on Monday, was being dried by five different fans. The carpet, something she brought from her former home, was rolled up and leaning against a wall.
“I’m wondering how much I’m going to get back” she said, sitting in the lobby of the Day’s Inn, where she and 22 of the building’s residence have been staying since Saturday. “That’s what I’m concerned about.”
Sarah Lodge is 47 and has lived in the complex for 3 years, she said, sitting among the quickly growing group of people gathered in the lobby.
When she was evacuated early Saturday morning, she had to leave her 3-year-old cat, Precious, behind.
“She has a self-feeder,” Lodge said of her cat, so she’s not too worried. “But we’d just like to get out of here. We’d all like to get back, I think.”
Tim Sulouff enters the lobby, and he’s brought donuts.
“Those are to share with the people,” he said, laughing. “All my friends brought food and stuff over for me.”
Sulouff lives on the west end of the second floor. Butch Snyder, who walks up behind Sulouff, lives on the second floor, too, only on the east end - the part of the building that had the most damage.
“The sirens were going off, and I don’t know what’s going on, and I open up the door and said, ‘Can someone turn this damn thing off?’” Snyder said. “And there I am, standing in water, and I didn’t even notice. I shut the door, and I felt this drop on top of my head, and I open up the door again and look to the right down the hallway, and there’s water gushing all over everything. I mean, it was just pouring down.”
This weekend, officials said they hoped everything would be repaired by today. But on Tuesday, it looked more like residents would have to wait until Friday, Rock Falls building inspector Mark Searing said.
“When the sprinkler system broke, that was on the fifth floor,” Searing said. “It took out all the controls for the elevator. It took out the boiler system for the hot water. And of course, there’s the water damage for all the floors and walls and everything.”
Searing said that, so far, a new boiler was being installed, an elevator was functioning, and the building’s heat had been restored.
The building provides subsidized housing for elderly and disabled people. While frustrated, the residents are quick to say just how grateful they are for the hospitality the community has shown, and that they’re being kept warm during what meteorologists are calling the coldest weather the Midwest has seen since the 1990s.
“Man, they just did a good job,” Sulouff said. “The fire department and everybody involved - from the ministry to the Red Cross, they have just done amazing.”
“Yes, definitely,” Morrison said.
“Even Self Help giving us a van at the last second that was really nice, and Meals on Wheels who got the food here for us,” Suluoff said.
“You know the Lord is in here,” Morrison said. “Look at what we’ve got: free meals, kind people ... I try to think about the good part. Not just the bad part.”
The call from the apartment complex at 1113 Fifth Ave. came in to the Rock Falls Fire Department at about 3:30 a.m.
“The problem started on the fifth floor, and water was raining down wherever it comes down the floor,” Bouwens said Saturday. “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.
The lack of heat in the hallways is an issue that the residents raised.
“We’re really hoping they’ll get that fixed, too,” one said.
Residents spent about 4 hours at the community center after being evacuated, 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 six volunteers with others on standby, Whiteside County Health Department sent two nurses, and Firehouse of God Ministries helped with transportation and delivered two meals to the Days Inn on Sunday. The residents’ stays at the hotel are being paid for by the building’s owner: S1 Management, Inc., which is based in Morton Grove.
Self Help Enterprises provided 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. The hotel is providing free breakfast cards, and donations came in from Casey’s General Store, Culvers and County Market.
“This is the Lord’s work,” Morrison said.