The Great Chicago Flood of 1992

by Randall R. Inouye, (M.ASCE), Lt. Col. and Commander, Chicago District; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago, IL,
Joseph D. Jacobazzi, (M.ASCE), Chief; Engrg. Div., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago, IL,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1992, Vol. 62, Issue 11, Pg. 52-55

Document Type: Feature article


In April of 1992, a breach in a freight tunnel caused the river that flows through Chicago to pour into city building basements, causing the city to shut down. Critical utility systems were cut off, and one of the nation's major economic centers was effectively shut down. The freight tunnels were built at the turn of the century and were a major engineering feat at the time. They were constructed so goods could be transported by miniature rail to the basements of those buildings, relieving congestion on the streets above. The tunnels are 20-50 ft below the city streets and have been used only for fiber optic cables for some years. In April, piles were being driven near one of the city's many bridges, and probably caused the break. By 5:30 a.m., the city was deluged with calls reporting water gushing into downtown basements. The water was from the river above the freight tunnel, which is connected to about 100 buildings. The Chicago Loop was declared a federal emergency disaster area and the Corps of Engineers, with federal funds, were assigned the task of stopping the leak, dewatering the tunnel, and overseeing design and construction of permanent plugs in tunnel shafts to prevent any such future disaster. Local contractors and engineering firms worked around the clock with the Corps to solve the problem and get the city back to normal.

Subject Headings: Floods | Chicago | Illinois | United States

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