My first thought was: A bomb went off.
An atomic bomb, maybe. Why else would thousands of office workers be evacuating the Loop at midday?
The truth — not that we knew it right away — was far less cataclysmic but in a sense even stranger.
It was noon, and I was getting ready to head downtown for the 2-to-10 p.m. shift as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. I turned on the TV in that pre-Internet era, and the noon news showed workers carrying files, streaming from buildings downtown.
In September 1991, workers aboard a “spud scow” from the Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company had been on the Chicago River, replacing rotten pilings — those wooden poles driven into the river bottom to protect the foundations of drawbridges from errant boats — at the southeast end of the Kinzie Street bridge.
Putting new pilings exactly where the rotted ones proved difficult. The bridge tender’s house was in the way. So they moved the new pilings — wooden telephone poles chained together — about a yard south. Just enough of a shift — by a foot, it was later estimated — that it cracked the ceiling of the network of tunnels that crisscross downtown underground.
The arched tunnels were hand-dug around 1900 ....
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|J.J. Madia, the city employee in charge of making sure the tunnels never flood again.|