Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Loop Flood dampens world’s view of Chicago

J.J. Madia in 2017

     Chicago is a city marked by disaster. Maybe even defined by it. Not only did the modern metropolis arise out of the ashes of the 1871 fire, but it then assembled a chain of terrible tragedies, such as the Iroquois Theatre fire in 1903 and the Eastland capsizing in 1915, the former the most lethal building fire in U.S. history (unless you consider 9/11 just a building fire, and I don’t), the latter among the deadliest maritime disasters ever.
     There’s more. The Our Lady of the Angels School Fire. The first major aviation disaster in U.S. history was in Chicago, the Wingfoot Express, a hydrogen-filled Goodyear blimp that exploded over the Loop in 1919, crashing through the skylight of a bank building, killing 13 people.
     Chicagoans tend to overlook them. To me, the 1992 Loop Flood, which occurred 30 years ago today, barely counts among the disasters mentioned above. A flood where not only nobody got hurt, but most people never saw floodwaters. How big of a deal could it be? 
     Yet it is of global interest. Four years back, a British film crew from Discovery Channel UK came to town to shoot a Loop Flood episode for the first season of their very Britishly titled program, “Massive Engineering Mistakes.” The producers had read my 25th-anniversary story online. Would I mind talking to their cameras about the flood? Maybe down in the very freight tunnels under downtown? Well ....
     On one hand, hours would be spent to benefit someone other than myself. Who’d ever know I was on British TV? Yet there is a siren allure to being on TV anywhere. Appearing on TV means something. It is significant, and British TV, double significant. They’re all so refined, the Brits.
     True, I’d have to be at City Hall at 8:30 a.m. But heck, why not? Change of pace.
     So I’m there, waiting by the bronze “CITY HALL” sign, bright-eyed, expectant. I get a text from the producer. Traffic. Running late. That happens! No worries! I slide over to Petra’s for a cup of coffee.

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  1. I read the 25th anniversary story, and it was superb. I also remember seeing you on that show, because Discovery Channel ran it in the States, not just in the UK. Good TV is good TV. whatever its origins. And I agree, you looked very--well--Chicago-ish. In that newsboy’s cap and leather jacket...and in front of City Hall. Like a real die-hard city guy, not some sissified suburbanite.

    Thanks for reminding me of the 30th anniversary. Wow...that all went by too fast. I experienced the Great Loop Flood. Power out, chased out of our Monadnock Building offices at mid-day, home on the "L" after a long delay and a detour, watching coverage on the local news. After a couple of days off, back to work, with CTA travel times doubled for the next three weeks, thanks to the flooded subways. Huge hoses snaking all over the downtown streets, enormous pumps running day and night, underground shops and arcades totally destroyed.

    Weeks later, after it was pumped out and sanitized, I was ordered into the cavernous sub-basement of the Monadnock Building, where I had to examine and dispose of countless boxes of waterlogged files, going back decades. The Blue Line trains rumbled beneath my boots. Those soggy days are my most vivid memory of the Great Loop Flood of 1992.

  2. I knew someone with an office in the Steven Building on State. He had a fish tank with a foot long fish they rescued from the lowest sub-basement of the building, from the flood.


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