It was not on a deserted island but in a city just yards from the freeway!
So, sit right back and you’ll hear a tale.
It started with a trip to Chinatown in Chicago, Illinois.
My wife and I make regular trips to Chinatown for shopping. The Asian stores here in Milwaukee often do not have everything my wife is looking for so we go to get the things she cannot find here. The weather report said an isolated short thunderstorm for Chicago. I figured that didn’t sound to bad. I did not check what the weather was supposed to be like at home (after all, we would be in Illinois most of the day). I made a twitter post just before we left mentioning that I have had a few surreal experiences in Chinatown. They have been very surreal, the kind of thing that would be in a movie. Yet, I had no idea what I was in for that Saturday.
The trip to Chinatown was actually fairly normal.
Chicago traffic was a bit worse than normal due to construction. The weather was exactly as predicted. There was a short storm just as we left Chinatown. It even stopped by the time we got on the freeway. We stopped at the Korean grocery store at Kimball and I-94. My mistake was getting back on the freeway right away. I had thought about taking Kimball north and getting on the freeway much farther south. The time we lost would become very important.
Instead, we got stuck in more bad traffic.
Surreal experiences began to occur in the traffic jam. A beat up rusty pickup truck in the lane next to me motioned for me to roll down my window. A man with a heavy Spanish accent asked me about a road I have never heard of. The truck had a huge greasy looking tank in the back and looked like the suspension had worn out 3 years ago. Honesty, I would have expected Mexican license plates but they were from Illinois. Imagine someone with Illinois plates asking someone with Wisconsin plates for directions in Chicago. The whole conversation just seemed really out of place. What next? A Rolls Royce asking "Pardon me, but would you have any Grey Pupon?" Traffic north out of Chicago was the worst I have seen on a Saturday evening and added at least an extra hour to our trip home.
In Wisconsin, we saw some of the darkest clouds I have ever seen pass overhead as we reached Racine county.
It was a sharp line of clouds moving very fast. Even though there should have been plenty of daylight yet, it was nearly dark as night. I once saw a tornado and these clouds looked just like the storm that created it. Still, other than being dark, we did not have much if any rain all the way home. My wife and I discussed stopping at the grocery store near home for eggs. She planned to have me drop her off and pick her up outside the door if it was raining when we got there. This was not even going to be a possibility.
The only warning that things were not quite normal, was some flooded fields just as we got off the freeway.
I thought “They sure got some rain while we were gone.” Ryan road were we got off the freeway was flooded out. Having lived in the area most of my life,, I kind of expect this. Ever since they made Ryan Road (hwy 100) go under the railroad tracks they have had trouble with it flooding when it rains. They have spent years and years trying to fix the problem. I think they thought it was fixed because they built the Oak Creek Police Station nearby. Anyway, Ryan was flooded no big deal. Oh, how wrong I was!
I headed north on 13th Street. I noticed that there was a lot of flooding in the area. I think it began to rain a bit at this point also.
Still, I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen.
At Puetz a fire truck turned onto 13th in front of us. I was wondering if we it would be stopping anywhere near our planned route home so we would get to see what the emergency was (I still get excited about fire trucks – I live in a quiet area where nothing exciting happens-or so I think).
If I had turned off at Puetz things would have been very different.
In fact I would probably not be writing this now if I had simply turned east on Puetz. However, Puetz is not a road I normally take. Drexel was the next through road east and happens to be the road I live on. Drexel is also a much larger and heavier trafficked road. Most people would have made the same choice. We had already decided to skip the eggs at the grocery store. In retrospect, I had a gut feeling I should turn, but ignored it. Besides, there was that cool fire truck just in front of us.
And so, our fate was sealed.
Just a bit farther north on 13th and the situation began to reveal itself. There was a huge flood on the west side of the road. It was a lake where there should not have been one. The fire truck stopped and a fireman got out. The fireman walked along a road boarding this new lake. I am not sure what he was looking for. I suspected downed power lines. Moments later, a city ambulance/rescue truck also came up from behind us and turned right into a subdivision bordering 13th. I was one car behind the fire truck. I stayed back a bit from the car as there was a small bridge right there that had an unbelievable amount of water running under it from the growing lake. You could not see the opening where the water was coming in, just the rushing rapids coming out.
As we waited for the fire truck blocking the road the water started to come over the road closer to our car.
When we first stopped, the water was on the side of the road. Soon, it was covering the entire south bound lane. Traffic on 13th was now becoming a traffic jam in both directions. The fire engine blocking the north lane with us and the water threatening the south bound traffic. A few cars risked the water going south while we waited, but clearly, it was not going to be open much longer. I noticed that many of the homes to the east were becoming in danger of being flooded. The homes to the west were already islands in a sea of water. I began to wonder about my home and the fact that we do not have a sump pump. Finally, the fire truck moved off 13th and we could move north. The water had just about reached our car.
During this time I had called my mother to see where she was. She had gotten stopped by the flooding farther west on 27th and was waiting it out at the Omega restaurant. My uncle had called her because he heard that a tornado had been seen near Drexel during the storm. Yep, I needed to get to the house and see what was going on.
At this point, I was shocked to discover Drexel was flooded.
It was not just flooded where it goes under the railroad tracks, where I may have expected it, but there was a car stuck with water up to its hood in an area I would never have guessed would flood. Just east of 13th. Never have I seen water where it was. Those in the area who did not see it would never guess that the road could flood there. Drexel just west of I-94 at 20th Street is normally flooded during heavy rain, especially in spring. Living in the area all my life, I have never seen Drexel flooded anywhere east of I-94. Drexel, the way home, was closed.
This is Drexel as normal. A car was stuck in flood water about at the red X.
I had no choice but to continue north on 13th to Rawson Ave. One of the fire trucks passed us and turned down Rawson ahead of us. Rawson too, also goes under the railroad tracks and the fire truck took a position blocking anyone stupid enough to try to get through. There was a car (again with water up to its hood) stuck in the westbound lanes. Rawson eastbound was closed.
For a brief moment, I hoped that I could get through the industrial park to Drexel.
I hoped that maybe Drexel was flooded only near 13th and we could maybe still get through. I has to turn around immeditately. The road through the industrial park was also flooded. I could tell how deep the water was because there was a car stuck there too. It also, drowning up to its hood. I do not blame this guy. There really was no way you could tell it was that deep. I will try to add a photo of this spot without water in a few days. You would never think water could be so deep there as to stop a car.
There was a car stuck in flood water about the red X in this industrial park. Note the height of the semi approaching and lack of any water in view just a week after.
Rawson westbound was also flooded.
There were about 4 cars stuck in the water there. The amazing thing was to see other cars think they could get past the ones already stuck. Some did, with the water rippling over their hoods. Others, obviously, did not make it.
We had no choice to again to continue north on 13th, hoping we could get to College Ave. which goes over instead of under the railroad that seems to be causing such a problem. I turn on the radio to listen to a weather report that warned about “the possibility of flash flooding.” I tell you the new media are really the last to have a clue what is going on. I sure did not have time to let them in on the facts.
Our hope was soon shattered.
Our friendly fire truck passed us again going north on 13th. A bad sign. Soon we spotted the flooding ahead and turned around. This flooding was actually happening in front a a hotel. We saw the hotel later on the news. The entire firs floor had been flooded and they had some of the people that had been staying there interviewed.
By now, 13th was becoming a major traffic jam.
Worse than the ones we had just experienced in Chicago. There were a few cars coming into the area off the freeway and finding no where to go. Everyone was trying to find a way out. There was none.
I tried heading back south on 13th. Between Rawson and Drexel someone had been having a party. The canopy they had up was sitting in two feet of water. Some of the attendees had parked on the side of 13th. There was water getting very close to those cars. By the time Drexel was in view, I realized that traffic south of Drexel in 13th was not moving and that the water had probably covered the road. I turned around and went back to Rawson.
We were marooned!
Every way out of the area was flooded.
I have lived in the area all my life and know what roads go through. Many had already come to the same realization and the parking lots at Burger King and the other restaurant nearby were starting to fill as there was nowhere else to go (I am not sure if the parking lot at the movie theater was flooded or not). All the road east were flooded. The road north and south was flooded. The roads west were flooded.
The only road with a passable puddle was some of the eastbound lanes of Rawson coming off the freeway. Even they had several inches of water. They were also pretty much blocked with the traffic coming into the area and discovering the traffic jam the rest of us were in. We were stuck on a stretch of 13th with no way out.
I was beginning to think about giving up.
Just wait it out. There were still a few parking spots left in Burger King. I was, however, a bit concerned about our home. Once in a while, that fire truck would rush by, honking at a car not really able to do anything about being in the way. All the fire truck seemed to do was go back and fourth on 13th checking that, yes, everything was flooded. Maybe just checking that no one was in physical danger.
We were marooned, just yards away from the freeway.
Want to know how we got out? Did we just wait it out at Burger King? Were we really just watching a movie about a flood at the theater (no we weren’t)? Was it just a dream? Sadly, no, and the story is far from over.
If fact, there is a lot more coming.
But you will have to wait a bit. I have noticed this post is even longer than I planned. If you want to know how we escaped, make sure you read my next post. Even after the escape, this story still has a lot more to it. Surreal as it may be, it is all true. Make sure you read the next post.