PEORIA — Less than anticipated rain Thursday might have given public works crews a breather, but it didn't change the estimates for the Illinois River crests next week.
The National Weather Service in Lincoln is still holding to a crest of 27.5 feet in Peoria on Sunday evening. That's nearly 10 feet over flood stage, which is 18 feet. But the general sense is that if the weather holds — and that means a few days without rain — the area could escape without serious damage.
"Most of the rain Friday is south of Peoria," said Kirk Huettl, a meteorologist with the weather service. "The next best chance for rain is early next week. Saturday and Sunday still look fairly dry."
If things stay the same, the 27.5 foot crest will be the sixth highest on record for the Illinois River at Peoria. It's less than two feet shy of the record 2013 flood total of 29.4 feet.
Still, the river will produce significant flooding in low-lying areas along Peoria's riverfront, as well as north in Mossville and Chillicothe, and in parts of East Peoria. North State Street in Mossville and Spoon River Road in far western Peoria County were closed Thursday because of flooding, according to the Peoria County Highway Department. Parts of Dee Mack Road were closed due to the rising Mackinaw River. Pekin's Riverfront Park was closed off to all traffic on Wednesday as the water crept up.
In LaSalle County, flood preparations began Wednesday. Multiple fire and rescue departments evacuated the LaSalle County Nursing Home, which sits just north of the Illinois River in Ottawa.
"Thanks to all of the nursing facilities who accepted our residents and assisted us in transporting them," the nursing home posted on its Facebook page.
In Utica, the village called for a voluntary evacuation of the southern, low-lying section of town — from Washington Street south to the Illinois River. Officials fear the river's crest will be higher than all but two prior record flood levels, endangering property and travel in that flood-prone area. "The Illinois River recedes very slowly after a crest," the village website stated. "Additional rainfall at any time during the next seven days could cause the river to start to rise again."
Earlier on Thursday, denizens at Spindler Marina in East Peoria began to pack up their RVs and prepared to leave as waters there continued to rise. The park is closed until further notice.
Mike Johnson, the police chief for the Fon du Lac Park District Police Department, said he expected the campgrounds to be underwater by Monday.
"We had Ameren out there and they were taking out the electricity," he said. EastPort Marina, he said, should see some flooding along frontage roads but the actual buildings were high enough to avoid any damage given current predictions.
A few miles away, Spring Bay in Woodford County was bracing for the water. Kent McCanless of the county's emergency management agency, said Lake Street could be inundated if the river tops 28 feet. But for now, they are "keeping an eye on things."
"We met with the highway department and there are no major road closures," he said. "Some of the creeks and the ditches are full, but really no road closures. We are monitoring the area down by Spring Bay, but most of the homes down there don't get that flooded."
It's a similar situation in Peoria where Bill Lewis, the city's interim public works director, said there is a stretch along Galena Road within the city that can have some flooding and also on Clark Street. But most of the city's attention is in Downtown, where crews were setting up a sandbag wall in front of the River Station building.
Johnson said the forecast appears to be helping as the rain is "clearing out of the Chicago area," which is important as water up there has to come down here eventually.
His biggest concern? Gawkers.
"We hope to limit the number of people who want to get into the water. They don't realize that the current increases when the water is high," he said. "This isn't the time to be sightseeing."
And it could be high for a while. River projections show the river staying above 26 feet for several days after the crest. And beginning Monday and lasting through Wednesday, the region could see bouts of heavy rain, Huettl said. So could northern Illinois, which would affect the Illinois River levels.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz. Nick Vlahos, Chris Kaergard and Phil Luciano contributed to this story.