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SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker has activated nearly 60 National Guard soldiers to help communities along the Illinois River prepare for forecasted floods.

Pritzker on Thursday issued disaster proclamations for four rural counties along the Illinois River: Grundy, Pike, Scott and Morgan. Grundy County is southwest of Chicago, while the other three counties are in west-central Illinois.

Soldiers will help with sandbagging operations in those communities as the National Weather Service forecasts major flooding over the next several days along parts of the Illinois River, as well as minor to moderate flooding along nine other rivers.

For example, the NWS expects the Illinois River to reach major flood stage Saturday morning in the small Morgan County town of Meredosia, continuing to rise through the middle of next week.

“Without additional flood protective measures, several levees can overtop and roads can flood near the river,” read a Thursday news release from the governor’s office. “In Meredosia, the village’s 980 residents could be in jeopardy of losing their homes and lives.”

As of Thursday morning, the NWS also forecasts major flooding near LaSalle, Henry, Peoria and Havana. 

“Flooding kills more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning,” said Alicia Tate-Nadeau, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, in the release. “In the coming days, flash flooding will be a concern as we see additional precipitation fall on already saturated soils. Now is the time to take actions to protect your family and property from potential flooding.”

The latest deployment of National Guard personnel comes as hundreds of soldiers have been deployed in various capacities to assist Illinois’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing public health crisis will also change how the state responds to disasters.

“COVID-19 has altered every facet of our lives, and that includes how we respond to emergencies or disasters,” Pritzker said in Thursday’s release. “Our public safety agencies are working together to provide guidelines that limit potential exposures and keep everyone safe.”

All newly-activated soldiers will be tested for COVID-19 before they deploy to local communities and they will be given personal protective equipment, or PPE, to use when they cannot socially distance. Soldiers will also be housed within the communities they are working.

Sandbags will also be placed at three state correctional facilities: prisons in Jacksonville and Mount Sterling, as well as a work camp in Pittsfield. None of these facilities has an active case of COVID-19, and all Illinois Department of Corrections facilities remain on lockdown in response to the virus.

The governor’s office said county emergency managers are working with local health departments to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for people building levees, including implementing daily temperature checks, social distancing and giving workers personal PPE.

Additionally, truck drivers from the Illinois Department of Transportation who will deliver truckloads of sand and filled sandbags to affected areas have been instructed to wear PPE.

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This article originally ran on jg-tc.com.

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