Detroit lawmaker seeks state aid for city flood victims

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A day after Detroit’s health director urged residents to get preventative vaccines following two cases of Hepatitis A from contact with raw sewage during basement cleanups, a state lawmaker is calling on Gov. Rick Snyder to send state aid to Detroit flood victims.

“It is time for Gov. Rick Snyder to send the Michigan National Guard to provide relief and assistance to residents and businesses, including those in House District 2, affected by the recent flooding in Detroit and along the Detroit riverfront,” state Rep. Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, D-Detroit, said in a statement Friday.

The storms, she said, “have created a risk to the health and welfare of people living in the flood zone. Children and families are facing serious health risks because the storm system mixed sewage with storm water overflow that then flooded homes and properties. Our local authorities have committed resources to the cleanup, but it is not enough, and they don’t have the resources to do more.”

Late Friday, Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said Tinsley-Talabi’s office first reached out to the governor’s office in July and was advised on the process of doing a disaster declaration and damage assessment.

Heaton in an email to The News said “progress is being made but as far as funding goes the assessments are still being worked on.”

Typically, Heaton said, the process is initiated by a local declaration of emergency and a request for state aid. At the state level, the process moves through the Emergency Management and Homeland Security division of the state police.

The state police requested and were granted an extension for the assessment earlier this month through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Detroit declared a local disaster earlier this month, but did not request state assistance, Heaton said.

The Hepatitis A cases in Detroit came after heavy rains in July led to widespread sewage backups in the city’s District 4, which borders Grosse Pointe and the Detroit River, encompassing numerous neighborhoods including Ravendale, Victoria Park, East English Village, Jefferson-Chalmers and MorningSide.

Both middle-aged men infected with Hepatitis A, a virus that affects the liver, were hospitalized and are expected to recover, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, who heads Detroit’s Department of Health, said Thursday. One of the men lives in the Jefferson-Chalmers area and the other is a relative of a homeowner in the same neighborhood.

Both cases were reported within a two-week span. City health officials learned of the first case early last week and the most recent on Wednesday.

El-Sayed said both afflicted men were involved in cleaning up basements in southeast Detroit, but not necessarily in areas the July flooding impacted.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has aided in the cleanup of impacted basements following July 8 and Aug. 16 storms.

On Thursday, the water department told The Detroit News it “has taken historically unprecedented steps to ensure homes in the area impacted by recent storm activity are professionally cleaned and sanitized.”

But Tinsley-Talabi believes city officials should have additional assistance and equipment from the Michigan National Guard to help residents and business owners who can’t tackle flood waste materials.

“I am also requesting that Gov. Snyder require the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to conduct an independent assessment and review of the storm drain system in House District 2,” she said Friday. “Clearly, this storm system is not working as it should. The residents of House District 2 cannot afford the health risks and the costly destruction of personal and business property. It is of the utmost importance that we have a prompt and clear response from the governor.”

Since Hepatitis A has a lengthy incubation period, El-Sayed urged those who have come in contact with raw sewage in the last two months to seek medical attention from their primary care physician to discuss potential vaccination or treatment.

For residents who don’t have a medical care provider, insurance or transportation, the city health department is offering preventative vaccines for potential Hepatitis A exposure through Sept. 2 at either of its two clinics: Samaritan Center, 5555 Conner, or Family Place, 8726 Woodward.

A vaccine can prevent the condition’s onset if administered within two weeks of exposure, health officials say.

To address concerns over hepatitis A or potential health impacts from the flooding, Detroit has also partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to launch an assistance hotline. For information, call 211.