SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Sixty soldiers with the Illinois National Guard have been activated for state active duty to assist with the flood response efforts in four counties along the Illinois River, including Pike County.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a state disaster proclamation for Pike County, along with Grundy, Scott and Morgan counties, to allow for state support
After consulting with local officials and experts at the National Weather Service, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency is initiating sandbagging operations to assist communities along the Illinois River with flood fighting efforts.
The National Weather Service is forecasting major river flooding over the next several days for portions of the Illinois River, as well as moderate to minor flooding along nine other rivers in Illinois.
"The Illinois National Guard has shown the capability to rise to any challenge," said Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard. "The pandemic complicates flood response, but we will do whatever it takes to protect our fellow Illinoisans."
The soldiers activated include about 40 from Company D, 766th Brigade Engineer Battalion, based in Bloomington, who will conduct levee and sandbag monitoring operations in the vicinities of Meridosia, Valley City and the Big Swan Levee. Other potential missions for the Illinois National Guard include sand bagging, sandbag placement and infrastructure support
"I have directed all agencies in my administration to doing everything possible to help local communities prepare for and respond to the potential flood risks presented in the current forecast," Pritzker said. "COVID-19 has altered every facet of our lives, and that includes how we respond to emergencies or disasters. Our public safety agencies are working together to provide guidelines that limit potential exposures and keep everyone safe."
The Illinois River at Meredosia is projected to reach major flood stage of 24 feet Saturday morning and continue to rise through midweek, according to the National Weather Service.
All guardsmen will be tested for COVID-19 prior to deployment into local communities. They also will be issued personal protective equipment to use while working in conditions where they cannot appropriately implement social distancing procedures, and they will be housed within the community to ensure the virus is not being brought into the affected communities.
"Flooding kills more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning," said IEMA Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau. "In the coming days, flash flooding will be a concern as we see additional precipitation fall on already saturated soils. Now is the time to take actions to protect your family and property from potential flooding."
The Illinois Department of Corrections also has started sandbag operations at prisons in Jacksonville, Mount Sterling and Pittsfield.
The governor's office said county emergency managers are working with their health departments for guidance to protect those building up local levees. Guidance includes daily temperature checks, social distancing, issuing PPE to workers and reassigning at-risk workers to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19.