August 11, 2014 at 1:00 am

Metro Detroit under heavy water; 1 stranded motorist has died in Warren

The thunderstorms that drenched the Metro Detroit area Monday closed flooded freeways, stranded motorists for hours and soaked basements in their wake. One woman has died after being found in a vehicle that was stranded in about 3 feet of water during the flooding in Warren.

Warren Mayor James Fouts said the woman apparently died of cardiac arrest.

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, portions of nearly all the major freeways in southeastern Michigan are closed. The water is so deep in some places — up to 14 feet — that the Michigan State Police has dispatched divers to look for submerged cars and to look at how badly the freeway drains are clogged.

“We have dive team members in different areas to get a count of how many cars are submerged,” Lt. Michael Shaw said Tuesday morning. “We want to also get a look at the infrastructure so that we can open the freeway system safely.”

Michigan State Police is warning drivers to take precautions before treading into standing water as the Michigan Department of Transportation works to assess damage to roadways. A dive team checked Interstate 94 at Michigan Avenue as well as interstates 696 and 275, Shaw said. He said there aren’t reports of people missing after severe flooding hit Monday, but police want to be sure.

Shaw said at this point, the MSP can’t predict when the freeways would be driveable: “I have no predictions ... even if the pumps were working at double capacity,” he said. “For instance, the Interstate 75 and 696 interchange is under 11 feet of water. So far, the worst hit areas are at Interstate 696 and Van Dyke, the Down River area and in Madison Heights, where they have flooding and power outages.”

According to police, 76 percent of Stephenson Highway — which runs between I-75 in Troy and I-696 in Royal Oak/Madison Heights — has been washed away by the rain, causing catastrophic damage to the I-75/I-696 interchange.

According to Shaw, the state has activated the State Emergency Operations Center in Lansing, where MDOT, the MSP and Homeland Security will coordinate recovery efforts with local emergency managers in southeastern Michigan.

Gov. Rick Snyder said the state has brought in additional squads of state troopers and other resources as part of broader efforts to help deal with severe flooding in the Detroit area.

Snyder, who was in the Upper Peninsula for a previously scheduled trip, said Tuesday that the state has “taken a dramatic series of actions.”

Snyder said state officials will remain in contact with local officials to see what’s needed to help respond to the flooding and its aftermath. He added the state is bringing the “right resources.”

According to the National Weather Service, more rain is headed toward the area Tuesday but the showers are expected to be very light.

“We’re looking at maybe 1/4 of an inch compared to the 3 to 6 inches of rain that fell on Monday,” said meteorologist Mike Richter, working from the White Lake Township station. “Monday’s rain moved in at about 11 a.m. and was heaviest from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Metro Airport reported up to 2 inches of rain in an hour.

“Metro reported 4.57 inches of precipitation for the day, second only to the 4.74 inches, which fell on July 31, 1925.”

According to the NWS, at least three bodies of water flooded Monday, including the lower Rouge in Dearborn, Ecorse Creek in Dearborn Heights and the Clinton River in Clinton Township and Sterling Heights.

“The Clinton River set a record with its crest at 20.8 feet,” Richter said. “The record was 20 feet.”

The Detroit Zoo announced it was closed Tuesday after the heavy rains damaged its facilities and equipment, including the Arctic Ring of Life exhibit and boilers in other buildings.

General Motors Co. also has closed its Tech Center in Warren due to the flooding: “We sent out notice to employees last night that given the road conditions, that it’s just not safe to go there,” GM spokesman Pat Morrissey said Tuesday.

Chrysler Group LLC said four plants were impacted by flooding. Chrysler’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant will be releasing employees Tuesday morning, Chrysler spokeswoman Shawn Morgan said.

The company’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant, Sterling Stamping and Warren Stamping plants are operating Tuesday, but at a slow rate, Morgan said in an email.

“Chrysler Group is continuing to monitor the weather and the status of road closures,” Morgan said in an email. “At this time, it is expected that production on the second shifts at all plants will resume at the normal times.?”

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday said all of its plants were “running their normal production schedules” after the heavy rain slowed down a number of sites Monday night. Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant, Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne and Sterling Axle and Van Dyke Transmission plants in Sterling Heights all experienced production slowdowns last night.

Additionally, the Ford Chicago Assembly and Kentucky Truck plants experienced interruptions in production because of flooding at Michigan-based suppliers.

The skies opened over Metro Detroit on Monday and poured out rain, sending thousands into a watery mess, flooding basements and freeways, and stranding motorists who could only post photos of their plight on social media or call for help.

From Macomb County to Downriver, road crews raced to tend to stuck motorists, stunned residents dealt with sewage-filled basements and Michigan State Police warned drivers to stay off the roads.

“This is not a typical day,” said Susan Hiltz, public affairs director at AAA Michigan, which fielded 513 service calls between 7 and 7:30 p.m. Monday alone, compared to 74 in the same time frame a week earlier.

Michigan Department of Transportation crews worked overnight to check freeway pump stations, but it wasn’t immediately clear how long it would take for the waters to recede, spokeswoman Diane Cross said.

“The big unknown variable is going to be the water and where it’s going to drain … because everything is full of water already.”

As much as 6 inches of rain drenched the region Monday — most falling in just a few hours, according to the National Weather Service.

Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus set a record with 4.57 inches of rain, more than doubling the previous high-water mark, 2.06, notched in 1964.

Canton Township reported more than 4 inches of rain by 6 p.m. — including 3.45 inches in three hours, the weather service said. Parts of Livonia also saw about 2 inches in two hours. Other rainfall totals included 5.2 inches in Warren; 4.9 inches in Rochester; 4.54 inches in Southfield; 4.25 inches in Taylor; 4.16 inches in Garden City; 4 inches in Livonia; 3.75 inches in Dearborn; 3.10 inches in Romeo; 2.6 inches in Farmington; and 2.25 inches in Berkley, the weather service reported.

The deluge of water prompted the weather service to issue an urban and small stream flood advisory, then, as rain continued for hours, flood warnings.

The weather service said the Lower Rouge River was 1.86 feet above flood stage in the Detroit suburb of Inkster at 7:30 p.m. Monday. The Clinton and Rouge rivers as well as Ecorse Creek had also passed the flood stage by at least a foot, the weather service said.

That extra water impeded travel on surface roads as well as flooded freeways. Throughout the rainy evening, thoroughfares such as Interstate 75, I-94, I-696, Telegraph Road and Southfield Freeway all had lanes submerged, affecting traffic.

MDOT reported at least five freeway closures by 7 p.m. Monday, which was “incredibly unusual,” Cross said.

On the southbound Lodge near Six Mile, with no movement on the freeway, folks with nothing to do except wait for the road to clear were standing outside taking iPhone photos and chatting. A van also was submerged in several feet of water on Monday evening. Near Woodward in Highland Park, rescue crews were ferrying people from their cars in waist-high water in a flooded lot.

Some of the swamped paths on the freeways were related to overworked pumping stations, Cross said.

“There’s been such a large quantity of rain, so either the stations are being overwhelmed by the quantity or we’re having power issues,” she said.

The tide washed into residential neighborhoods, as well.

Dearborn resident Pat Schuesler has a basement full of sewage water and ruined possessions.

“I disconnected the electricity last night but couldn’t figure out how to cut off the gas,” Schuesler said Tuesday morning. “I have sewage all over the basement, and it stinks. Everything is ruined. I’ve never gone through this sort of thing before, and I really don’t know what to do next. I have fans, but it will take weeks for everything to dry out.”

Royal Oak police report they have received 500 calls relating to basement flooding, plus officers have impounded 30-35 vehicles left abandoned in roadways and at railroad viaducts.

Additionally, the Royal Oak Fire Department lost two engines as a result of driving through large pools of water.

DTE Energy Co. is reporting 16,000 homes and businesses without power scattered across the metro area Tuesday morning.

“Barring any further weather, we should have everyone back on line some time today,” said DTE spokesman Scott Simons.

A flight status check at Detroit Metropolitan Airport showed no problems with departing or arriving flights.

Calls to Dearborn’s emergency water department phone number indicated that there was flooding in basements across the city. Public works crews were working to resolve the issue, officials said.

Resident K. Pat Schuesler went into his basement to find a sight he hadn’t witnessed in 14 years there: an estimated 21/2 inches of water along with raw sewage. “I can’t do anything about it … except commiserate with my neighbors,” he said.

They, too, were waterlogged. Gazing outside, Schuesler saw swells reaching over the curb; two cars nearby “look like boats,” he said.

In Warren, dozens of people were stranded at Buddy’s Pizza near Old 13 Mile and Van Dyke, said Fouts. A police car was underwater at 10 Mile and Mound, Fouts said. “It is out of control.”

In Huntington Woods, many side streets were impassable, filled with 6 inches or more of water, or in the case of a stretch of York Road west of Woodward, blocked by a giant tree limb. Motorists acted like hamsters in a maze, trying to find a way through rain-filled streets, only to find deeply flooded dead ends, prompting them to hit reverse and try to find another way home, or abandon their cars in business parking lots along Woodward.

A homeowner along Scotia south of 11 Mile was a one-man bucket brigade, repeatedly emptying buckets of water from his basement. A block away, a Huntington Woods neighbor probed the flooded corner of Scotia and Borgman with a rake in a futile bid to unclog an overwhelmed sewer system.

Drivers along 11 Mile stopped along the flooded roadway west of Woodward, offering rides to pedestrians. The heavy rainfall caused many streets in the city of Plymouth to flood, officials said. Crews were working to keep the Tonquish Creek grate clear of debris Monday.

Sterling Heights police asked residents to stay in their homes. Officials warned the city’s storm sewer had reached capacity.

Basement flooding was reported in Hazel Park, Roseville, Berkley and Detroit. Taylor roads also flooded. In Royal Oak, streets and basements flooded in some neighborhoods, said Oakland County Commissioner David Woodward.

In Hazel Park, police helped free a car stuck on the I-75 service drive. Elsewhere, a truck sank and cars were stuck in water, mud and medians.

Hazel Park resident Herman Tucker, 53, was one of several people who gathered to take pictures and gawk at the “epic rainfall” at northbound Interstate 75 at I-696, where water nearly touched the roughly 15-foot overpass and water dampened nearly 200 feet into the ramp.

“I’ve been living here since 1962, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Tucker said Tuesday. “It rained all day. The ground was already saturated and when this came in last night ... my backyard was totally underwater.”

Tucker, who lives near Woodward Heights and John R, said his yard is covered in nearly 6 inches of water.

“It makes you wonder. You hear it on the news: Don’t drive through standing water, but yet people still do it,” Tucker said. “There are cars in there that are totally underwater and you can’t even see.”

Roseville Fire Chief Mike Holland warned Metro Detroiters to avoid walking across standing water on roadways.

“Manhole covers are being hidden by water and flooding can lift them out of their holes,” he said. “Pedestrians could wind up falling in.”

The rain ended early Tuesday and is expected to be followed by another round in the afternoon, but “we’re not looking at anything severe,” said Sara Schultz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Staff Writers Tom Greenwood, Tony Briscoe, Mark Hicks, Candice Williams, Joel Kurth, Robert Snell, Richard Burr, Susan Whitall, Stacy Sominski, Charlie Ramirez, and the Associated Press contributed.

A pedestrian sloshes through flooded streets of Detroit at Eight Mile and John R. / David Guralnick / The Detroit News
Flooding on I-75 southbound near Warren in Detroit. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Cars battle flooding on southbound I-75 near Warren in Detroit on Monday ... (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Looking south from the Dallas Avenue overpass of I-75 just north of the ... (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)