February 19, 2014 at 1:00 am

'Take precautions,' Snyder and Detroit officials advise during thaw

Cars navigate a watery Garfield Road in Fraser. Flooding is a major concern of state and local officials as snow and ice thaw. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

State and local officials are urging citizens to be alert to flooding and other weather hazards triggered by Wednesday’s break in the long stretch of record-breaking snow and brittle temperatures in southern Michigan.

Flooded streets were reported in some areas of Detroit, where temperatures topped 40 degrees; and in Delta Township near Lansing, falling ice is believed to be responsible for rupturing a gas meter and sparking a fire in a barn.

Gov. Rick Snyder and aides to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan called separate news conferences to urge residents to be on their toes.

“We want people to take precautions,” said Snyder, who encouraged “awareness, caution and preparedness.”

The southern part of the state faces possible flooding as rain, coupled with rising temperatures, may result in a rapid thaw of the state’s record-breaking snowfall.

State road crews, the governor’s office said, are clearing drainage structures on state roads to prevent or minimize flooding; the departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality are working with the U.S. Coast Guard to help deal with possible flooding.

The ground can’t absorb the melting snow blanket because it’s still frozen, and that may result in flooding of low-lying areas, including roads and basements.

“State authorities are monitoring situations across Michigan, are working closely with local and federal partners, and are reaching out with helpful information designed to protect our citizens and their property,” Snyder said.

“Let’s all stay informed of the changing weather conditions and put safety first.”

The governor’s office encouraged residents to monitor local news and weather reports, heed advisories and avoid driving through standing water.

“A lot of this is about being smart,” Snyder said.

Meanwhile, Detroit officials urged residents to help clear snow- and ice-covered drains in their neighborhoods.

“We don’t want flooding throughout the city,” Alexis Wiley, the city’s director of community engagement, said at a news conference near the flooded residential intersection of Marantette and Vermont. “We want to minimize as much flooding as possible.”

Wiley was joined by Tony Kratofil, region engineer with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Kratofil urged Detroiters to pay attention to their surroundings and avoid driving into flooded areas.

“Use good judgment, care and caution,” he said.

As Wiley spoke, city crews worked to clear a blocked drain. Within minutes, the water began to subside.

She also encouraged residents to clear snow near fire hydrants to prevent firefighters from having difficulty in the event of a fire.

“Considering our resources, we are focusing on the main roads and are asking residents to focus on the neighborhoods,” she said.

Resident Brian Perrone, 41, says he’s lived in the neighborhood for seven years and has never seen it so flooded.

“It’s a mess, but what are we going to do,” he said. “We’ve never seen the weather like this.”

The state Department of Transportation is clearing roads it oversees including Woodward, Grand River, Gratiot and Fort Street, while the city’s workers clear drains on Detroit’s other main streets.

Snowfall wasn’t the only contributor to flooding streets this winter. Hundreds of water main breaks left expressways and residential streets under water, and many times frozen over.

In January alone, there were 312 reported incidents, according to the water department. Detroit Water and Sewerage Department handles more than a dozen calls daily for water main incidents.

Facing a backlog of more than 160 repairs, the DWSD approved a $4.2 million contract Wednesday with a contractor to ease the workload.

The department’s Operations, Regulatory, Compliance and Procurement Committee awarded Blaze Contracting Inc. with a $4.2 million contract to assist with the detection and repair of water main breaks, according to a news release by the department.

The contract is pending approval by the board of water commissioners in a Feb. 26 meeting.

Police officials in Hamtramck said the department was dealing with a sink hole on Conant near Commor. The city’s department of Public Works was out Wednesday night at several areas of the city that needed attention, whether it was from road trouble or water problems.

Wiley said residents who are experiencing difficulty in clearing drains should call the Detroit Water and Sewerage emergency hotline at (313) 267-7401.

The Upper Peninsula, however, was still caught in winter’s grip: Blizzard conditions were forecast for much of the U.P., which is under a winter storm watch through Friday.

Forecasts called for 6 additional inches of snow whipped into drifts by strong, westerly winds gusting up to 35 miles per hour.

(313) 222-2058
Staff Writer Tony Briscoe contributed.