FEMA representative Julie Pardini, left, talks with Eureka St. homeowner Gretchen Domino, of Warren, about flood water collapsing her backyard basement wall. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Warren— Within minutes, the rising water rushed through Eureka Avenue, flooding basements and filling the crawl space under Diane Picard’s home. It’s the same home that her grandfather bought 60 years ago and has been passed down to her.
Picard lost her car. The foundation underneath the house is sagging and the kitchen floor has a distinct slant that wasn’t there two weeks ago. Her insurance company said they couldn’t help.
Picard and her neighbors on Eureka Avenue were among the Metro Detroit residents who met Tuesday with disaster assessment agents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“You know with the floods in New Orleans, there was all that water sitting there, so people knew what was happening,” Picard said, recalling the massive flooding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “This came and went overnight, so people don’t have a clue what folks are going through.”
FEMA representatives are in town for three days traveling to the hardest hit areas as local officials try to find help for homeowners struggling in the aftermath of the Aug. 11 flash floods when up to 6 inches of rain soaked parts of the region.
“In many homes, people have lost everything. I think the average cost is well over $10,000 maybe closer to $15,000,” said Warren Mayor Jim Fouts. “People are really hopeful and dependent on FEMA. Neither the city nor the county are able to pay for this.”
State and local officials have been taking steps to obtain federal disaster relief, although federal aid could still be a long way off.
“Today is our first day and we’re just getting started for all three counties,” said Sandy Jasmund, who works in external affairs for FEMA’s Chicago office. “This is a step in the process.”
The process involves sending agents to investigate damage and talk to homeowners. Once the inspections are completed, FEMA will analyze their findings and report back to the state whether there is enough damage for the state to request aid, said Jasmund.
She said aid could come in two forms: individual assistance for homeowners and renters or public assistance where funds are given to government agencies to disperse.
“We understand this has been devastating for people, but we have to come in and assess all the damage first,” said Jasmund, who said she did not want to set a time frame for the process.
On Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder sought a formal damage assessment that could result in a disaster declaration and release funds from FEMA to help in recovery efforts for flood-ravaged communities. Jasmund said the agency received the request Friday and got here as quickly as possible.
Disaster declarations are done by county and the area’s three affected counties have already been making their case publicly to the state and federal government.
Oakland and Wayne county officials have put damage estimates at around $550 million and rising. Royal Oak has an estimated $120 million in personal property damage and losses. In Berkley, 4,400 homes were affected by the floods, city officials say. Dearborn has estimated 40 percent of homes and structures in that city had storm damage.
In Warren Fouts estimates about 22,000 buildings were damaged, most of them residential.
“Warren has been a donor city. We pay our taxes. We’ve never ever asked for anything,” said Fouts. “This is one time we need help. We have sustained more damage than in our city’s history.”
Fouts says many homeowners are still unable to live in their houses, with some, like Gretchen Domino, living in tents or RVs on their properties.
“I hope somebody will help clean up the basement, rebuild the house,” said Domino, whose home is no longer habitable because the currents carried a landscaping rock into the side of her house and punched a hole through it, letting the water in. “I don’t even know if it’s possible to save.”
Connie Rose has lived in her home for 30 years and just finished paying it off Aug. 1. A little more than a week later her entire basement was flooded.
“Everything was destroyed. It was literally water up to the landing,” said Rose, who also lives on Eureka Avenue and talked to FEMA agents about her property damage. “The washer, dryer, furnace, hot water heater, it’s all gone. I’ve been staying with family at night.”
She estimates her losses at $30,000 in losses, less than many of her neighbors.
“I have a job, so at least I had the means to hire somebody to come out here and clean up,” said Rose. “There are a lot of people who aren’t in that situation so they are likely still waiting for help.”