The surprising reason why some East St. Louis residents are stuck in the flood zone

FOX Files

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – Residents in one East St. Louis neighborhood say they live on a street that never dries.

In the Metro East, there’s a ditch that’s often near where you’ll hear about flooding. It’s called Harding Ditch – a 100-year-old drainage canal that goes for miles. It’s about to get some assistance to help prevent flooding problems, except for one East St. Louis street.

Eighty-two-year-old Teenette Dae has been flooded out of her home too many times to remember.

“Nobody cares about what happens,” she said. “We have a lot of seniors in this area so it really affects us, you know?”

We couldn’t even get to Dae during the last heavy rain. We had to waive to her from down the block.

Her daughter, Angela Harlan, moved down from Chicago to make sure emergency responders remember her mother on Terrace Drive, where she’s often trapped.

“Mostly I don’t sleep because I don’t know what to expect,” Dae said.

You’ll find pooling water even when it hasn’t rained for days. Check every Google Street View. In 2019, it shows standing water. The 2013 street view shows the same thing.

“They have continuously told us they’re going to fix things and, to our dismay every year, this is the same problem,” Harlan said.

Another Terrace Drive resident, Ethel White, said, “You open your oven door and water comes pouring out.”

White said her house has never completely dried.

“The paneling of the walls even, you have to take it down because it’s buckling and there’s worms behind it,” she said.

They live near Harding Ditch, where a nearby pump station was not even working when we visited. The city brought in two smaller portable pumps to try to keep up.

Both women want to move but cannot afford it. Their houses are paid off but who would want to buy them?

“We need to be bought out because it’s not stopping,” White said.

The government has bought out neighboring subdivisions, where we could see those houses have been torn down and the area always seems to be underwater. They say FEMA won’t buy out Terrace Drive, only because FEMA cannot get East St. Louis leaders’ approval.

“Nobody answers. Nobody says anything, so we’re not perfectly sure what to do,” Dae said.

Nobody in East St. Louis would answer us either – not by phone, email, or in person at city hall. During our personal visit, we were told Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks was in a meeting.

Former two-time Mayor Carl Officer said he had an answer.

“They don’t do stuff because it makes sense,” he said. “They don’t do things because it’s right. They do something because it’s what’s in it for them?”

Officer said he tried to help Terrace Drive during his last term—which ended in 2007—but couldn’t get a council majority to support him.

“There’s not one good street in that subdivision. I think the best route for relief for the persons living in that area are to be bought out,” he said.

Other Metro East residents along Harding Ditch may get some help.

“I believe we’re finally going to get you the relief that you need,” Cahokia Heights Mayor Curtis McCall said.

McCall joined Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and other leaders in a tour of Harding Ditch in April.

“Those of us who grew up around her know all about water,” Durbin said.

The senator promised resources and maintenance to help keep the drainage ditch clear, but no leaders showed up from East St. Louis.

We told Dae and White it was their chance to get a leader to fight for them. They both showed up to talk face-to-face with Senator Durbin.

“I remember when that ditch flooded when I was a kid and the subdivision around it were under water, so I’m familiar with 68th and State – really familiar with it,” he told them.

Durbin said despite absence of any leadership from East St. Louis, he would make sure Harding Ditch is also improved near Dae and White. They not only now have the senator’s ear about their desire for buyouts, but Carl Officer has also put them in touch with St. Clair County leaders he thinks will intervene.

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