GIBSON CITY — Mayor Dan Dickey wonders, like many do, about the long-term effects of the Aug. 12 flood that caused extensive damage in this community.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “I’ve been talking to other towns that have gone through this. Some houses might not get fixed. I hope people stay and rebuild. Gibson City is resilient.”
He believes in the long term, it will make the community stronger.
“It will take a while,” Dickey said of the flood that resulted from an estimated 9 to 11 inches of rain falling in a few hours. “We need to work together and help each other.”
One day after the flooding, it was difficult to believe a 5-foot wall of water had been running through streets and yards the day before. As residents took stock of damage, piles of debris began piling up to be hauled away.
Cleanup of the debris that Dickey estimated at between 800,000 and 1.2 million pounds was finished Monday — 18 days after the flood. Semi load after semi load was hauled to the landfill.
The city got help from several area communities, including Paxton, Rantoul and Mahomet, as well as Drummer Township and some private groups.
“We had a lot of help, and it worked,” Dickey said. “We got the debris picked up pretty quick. That was our goal. There was a lot of rotten food that was getting moldy.”
Ford County Public Health Administrator Lana Sample said the emergency shelter at Gibson City Bible Church that housed displaced people was able to close Aug. 21. Lodging was found for all those left without a place to stay. She said about 100 people stayed in the shelter the first night it was opened at Gibson City-Melvin- Sibley Middle School. It moved to the church a few days later.
The health department “assisted, through our senior programs, those clients who have services to try and locate other locations to stay,” Sample said.
Many found homes in Gibson City, while others are living in nearby communities.
The health department provided medical assistance at the shelter prior to the arrival of the Red Cross, and then was able to “do some case management with the seniors remaining in the shelter,” Sample said.
Dickey said about $80,000 has been donated to the City of Gibson Emergency Flood Relief Fund. That money will be transferred to the city’s housing rehab foundation, which will be in charge of distribution to those in need.
A door-to-door effort consisting of volunteers led by Illinois Emergency Management Agency personnel assessed the damage, and it was soon evident the city would not hit the $19 million target required for federal aid.
“We were disappointed, obviously,” Dickey said. “There’s like six parts to FEMA’s formula. It doesn’t include personal property. It’s living-area damage. It doesn’t include vehicles and detached property.”
Officials from the Small Business Administration have also been in town to provide information to apply for long-term, low-interest loans.
Dickey said he has been focusing on fundraising — “trying to get the word out to social media.”
Donations for flood relief can still be mailed to the Bank of Gibson City.
“We need help — $15, $25” checks. Anything, he said.
The city’s water and sewer plants “had minor damage” compared to what some homes experienced, Dickey said, but they remained online throughout the flooding.
“We’re pretty much covered on the damage we had” in terms of property owned by the village, Dickey said.
Both the fluoride and chlorine operations were damaged but were running the next day. Some city vehicles also sustained damage.
The city completed a $3 million storm-sewer project earlier this year, but it still couldn’t keep up with the massive influx of water. Once the level of Drummer Creek dropped west of town, the floodwater quickly drained out of Gibson City.
Dickey said since the flood, he has gone through town with engineers to discuss whether further improvements are warranted in the event of another heavy rain.
“I can’t see making enough improvements to handle a thousand-year flood,” he said.
Dickey has contacted the mayors of Watseka and Roanoke, which have experienced flooding issues over the years, to learn how the town should respond to residents’ and businesses’ needs.
Roanoke Mayor Mike Smith said that Woodford County community, located northeast of Peoria, has suffered four floods since 2013, with the ones in 2013 and 2000 being the worst.
He said 27 square miles of land drain into a small tributary that runs through the town of 2,000.
“Since 2013, we have had some significant repetitive losses,” Smith said. “The individual homeowners are to the point where some have just left their homes and walked away.”
Dickey hopes homeowners in his city don’t walk away from their property.
A flood like the one experienced in Gibson City can have a psychological effect on residents. Dickey said he can relate.
“We had a couple rains right after” the flood, he said. “It makes you think. I’m sure it’s not just me. It’s everybody.”
One slice of normalcy returned when the town’s Dairy Queen reopened this week. The store, which means a lot to the community, suffered significant flood damage.
The Gibson City-Melvin- Sibley Red Army spirit group sponsored an online auction fundraiser for the DQ. The highest bidders got the first ice cream treats.
It was all a way of saying thanks to the Patel family, owners of the business, for their support of the school over the years. The auction raised money to help DQ get back on its feet.
The business has since opened to the general public. Paul Patel said there is still a lot of work to be done, but DQ was able to get some of its freezers working and has ice cream and a limited menu of food available.
Last Friday night, people attending the GCMS football game were able to enter by providing donations to the Gibson area relief fund. No gate fee was charged.