VILLA GROVE The 22-person volunteer fire department had a busyday in this central Illinois town of 2,700 - and there wasn't even asingle fire.
"(We're) just getting the sidewalks cleaned up so people don'tfall on filth, mud and debris," said firefighter Denny Brown as hedirected a fire hose onto the sidewalk in front of the town's onlypizza parlor.
Residents of Villa Grove, which is about 20 miles south ofChampaign, worked tirelessly to protect their homes from the risingfloodwaters of the Embarras River, which cut the town in two andformed a two-block lake at the base of Main Street on Tuesday.
Water was 6 feet deep in some places on Main Street.
Firefighters and local volunteers worked all day Tuesdaysandbagging the town's water station. But the waters broke throughthe ramparts anyway, cutting water service for at least a weekk, saidwater department employee George Scott.
City workers took on unusual roles as the crisis dictated, withparamedics helping families move possessions to high ground andfirefighters operating boats to rescue about 35 families stranded intheir homes by high water.
"We have a good crew," said city Clerk Glenda Millsap, who wasmanning a makeshift command center.
A day after storms flooded towns across central Illinois, waterbegan to recede, leaving residents with messy homes and streets fullof muck and other debris.
There was no cause for relief near Springfield, however, as theSangamon River remained above flood stage. An eight-mile stretch ofInterstate 55 was closed because of high water.
Gov. Edgar summoned 150 National Guard troops to be prepared topounce on the lower Illinois and Mississippi rivers if the floodspreads from smaller streams.
Edgar also declared disasters in Douglas, Calhoun, Greene andJersey counties, qualifying them for state assistance.
Villa Grove families that never had been flooded before foundtheir homes significantly damaged by the swirling, muddy waters.
"It was really bad. We wanted too sell the house this summer,"said Shirley Hughes as she tossed out the crumpled, waterloggedcardboard boxes she had been collecting in her basement for the move.
Hughes said that in the 26 years she and her husband, Ted, hadlived in the house, they had never seen anything comparable.
The police station also was flooded and had to be evacuated.
Residents commented on the rapid rise of the floodwaters,estimating that the Embarras rose 1 to 1 1/2 feet an hour on Tuesday.
Ken Fulk didn't have time to save his recreational vehicle,whose engine he had taken apart and could not reassemble in time.
"The waater came up to here," he said, placing his hands midwayup the radiator of the bus he uses for deer-hunting trips.
Fulk said his house sustained $4,000 worth of damage in ruinedfloors, carpets and walls.
Tired Villa Grove residents gave thanks for the outpouring ofassistance their community received - from a truckload of bottledwater that came from the J. M. Jones wholesale grocery distributor inUrbana to offers of help from Niota, a town Villa Grove helped duringlast summer's Mississippi River flooding.
"It's ironic, about this time last year we adopted Niota aftertheir flood," said Deborah Chapman, a town volunteer paramedic.