August 14, 2014 at 8:45 am

Detroit area picks up pieces after floods

Madison Heights— Neatly clipped lawns in neighborhoods bordering 13 Mile between Stephenson and Campbell looked like remnants of a sanitation strike or a yard sale gone out of control.

Freeways reopened and the sky was blue, but on the second day after a flood gushed into streets and homes in numerous communities, grim homeowners worked at the task of digging out their soaked basements. The next time there is a chance of rain is Sunday.

Three deaths may have been caused by the flood.

As homeowners grew more frustrated waiting for insurance adjusters or cleanup crews — and nursed aching legs and backs pained from carrying countless boxes and items up flights of stairs — there were some bright spots.

All of the area’s freeways have reopened as submerged vehicles were carted off, easing commuting headaches. Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in the tri-county area, paving the way for state help. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel also declared states of emergency Wednesday.

The stormwater runoff was partially to blame for making one of the few areas of solace for harried residents a danger zone. Three beaches in Macomb County — Lake St. Clair Metropark, New Baltimore Park and St. Clair Shores Memorial Park — were closed because of high E.coli levels and will remain closed until levels return to normal.

“We did have a lot of rain with a lot of runoff, so it is likely the level of E. coli we are finding is related to the level of rainfall we had,” said Gary White, Macomb County Health Department deputy health officer.

In one Madison Heights neighborhood, house after house had stacks of sewer water-soaked furniture, mattresses and garbage bags of discarded belongings owners never wanted to see or touch again.

“We didn’t know what to do yesterday but try to salvage what we could and put the rest out at the curb — about 90 percent of it is junk now,” said Dan Coccia, a 76-year-old retired program analyst who regrets not having flood insurance.

Coccia said garbage pickers had been scrounging through the trash, in search of what, he could not imagine.

“They have to be nuts to go through this stuff with the sewer water all over it,” he said.

Rose, 63, lamented having to part with some of her Christmas decorations, collected since childhood.

“You caught me when I’m not crying,” she said. “We had them (decorations) in plastic tubs to protect them in case of flooding. A great idea. Only thing is, the tubs weren’t heavy enough and floated in the water and tipped over and filled up.”

Coccia said their washing machine is kaput, the dryer “may or may not work” and he has been unable to get the hot water heater operating.

Garbage collection companies that serve Metro Detroit communities said they’re preparing for the increase in trash.

“We’ve had an increase in the volume of calls for pickups since Monday,” said Beth Schmucker, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, based in Houston. “We’re expecting that to continue growing over the next four to six weeks.”

Schmucker said employees are working additional hours and shifts to keep up with the increased volume.

Joe Munem, a spokesman for Rizzo Environmental Services, said his Sterling Heights-based company is also seeing a bumper crop of trash heaps. “(The flooding) basically hit every house on some streets,” he said.

To handle the increased demand, Munem said, crews are running longer and reserve trucks have been pressed into service. He also said crews expect to work through the weekend.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said city workers are scouting neighborhoods for refuse from flooded basements and dispatching garbage trucks ahead of scheduled trash collection days.

“We’re telling residents if they’ve got stuff in their basements that was damaged by water, then put it at the curb and we’ll pick it up,” he said.

Fouts also said volunteers will go out beginning Thursday to canvass the city and help senior citizens and the needy clean up their water-logged basements.

Two Downriver communities said they have scheduled a flood-related trash pickup day on Saturday. Taylor and Southgate will provide residents with free pickup for flood-related items.

Revere Street in Warren near 14 Mile and Dequindre backs up to the Red Run drain. When the drain overflowed Monday night, it didn’t take long for the homes nearby to fill with water and sewage.

On Wednesday, piles of carpeting, drywall and other items dotted the curbs along the street, indicating the homes that flooded after the storm.

Dorene Speece is trying to cope with all of her family’s losses in the flood. She and her son moved into the basement of her mother’s house, so all of her belongings were under water.

“A lot of stuff got ruined: brand new carpets, two bedrooms, all my stuff in my dressers,” Speece said.

At one point, she says, there was about four inches of sewage water covering everything downstairs, including some irreplaceable items.

“Pictures, that’s basically the only thing we’re trying to salvage,” Speece said.

Chad Nichols, who also lives on the street, said the water went almost halfway up to the second basement step.

“All my carpeting and everything I had down there was floating in water,” Nichols said.

A bassist in a band called Under the Covers, Nichols had a lot of instruments and stereo equipment he tried to rescue. He’s waiting for them to dry out to test them.

On Dorothea Street in Berkley, Will Chaklos had a growing mound of furniture and refuse at the curb.

He was carrying another of a seemingly endless box of items out of the basement to his garage.

“We had about two feet of water and still don’t know what is salvageable,” he said.

Chaklos and his wife, who celebrate their first anniversary this weekend, said it took two days to get a hold of their insurance agent to find out what is covered.

“I suspect we will be spending our anniversary trying to figure out what we are going to do next,” he said.

Chaklos said the couple just moved into the house in July.

“One of the reasons we bought this house was because it had a finished basement,” he said. “It’s really finished now.”

Staff Writers Tony Briscoe, Tom Greenwood and Ursula Watson contributed.

Dan Levin cleans out his parents' Huntington Woods basement, their street littered with the damaged belongings of neighbors. 'I lost my first Olympus cameras, the one I bought and the one my dad gave me, ruined,' he said. / Daniel Mears / The Detroit News
Mark Chapman tosses ruined items from his family basement to the curb ... (Max Ortiz)
Danny Hakim, 20, and Arwan Hanna, 18, both of Madison Heights, carry a ... (Photos by Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)