Repairs launched on flooded historic Canfield in Detroit

Sarah Rahal Blake Alsup
The Detroit News

More than 24 hours hours after a wall of water flooded Canfield Street in Detroit's Midtown district, one worker was still on the scene Sunday, pumping water from the historic street after a massive water main break.

The scene of a water main break on Canfield Street in Detroit on July 29, 2018. The water main broke on the previous day.

LGC Global has been contracted through the Great Lakes Water Authority, which is in charge of the pipe because it is a transmission main that delivers water to smaller distribution mains in the city, a water department spokesman said.

Nearby was a massive pipe that will replace the broken, 30-inch, cast iron water main installed in 1886. An employee of the company, which handles construction, and water and wastewater infrastructure, said he was on "pipe watch" to ensure water still trickling into the hole left by the main break Saturday was pumped into a sewer drain.

Portions of the street collapsed from the break, leaving a hole several feet wide and several feet deep. A tree also was uprooted by the flooding.

Crews were on Canfield until around 4 p.m. Sunday. They plan to return Monday morning to continue repairs, LGC worker said.

“It was just like a river, like you were going water rafting,” resident Patrick Stiller said. “Man, it was just shooting down and I knew it was more than a 4-inch main or something like that. I didn’t originally know that we had a 30 inch main.”

The flooding was stopped Saturday night, according to Detroit Water and Sewerage Department spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh. It's estimated that the pipe replacement will take a couple of days, he said.

The new pipe also is made of cast-iron. There had been no previous breaks at the Canfield location, Peckinpaugh said.

Water service continues for residents and there are no boil water alerts because of a "redundancy in the water systems," allowing the water department to isolate the water main and divert distribution to homes from another water main, Peckinpaugh said.

The water department has no estimation of the cost, he said.

On Saturday, crews worked through the night after the main break flooded one of Detroit's most storied blocks.

Residents were shocked when just before noon Saturday the massive break sent a river of rushing water onto the road, flooding cars and knocking down the tree.

"I was having a conversation with a friend when I looked outside the house and there was water flowing out," said Ignacio Vial, a former resident of the street. "It was kind of like a geyser."

Vial said water was spewing at least 5 feet high and flooding the street because of poor drainage. 

"Soon, a beloved tree fell on to some cars across the street," he said.

The scene of a water main break on Canfield Street in Detroit on July 29, 2018. The water main broke on the previous day.

The flooding reached the cobblestone road between Second and Third streets. Some residents ran to get their cars before it was too late. Others weren't so lucky. 

The water department crew arrived at 1 p.m., and by then, the water reached up to the top of car wheels, damaged lawns and moved upended sidewalks.

Detroit Water and Sewerage crews work on the flooding water main on Detroit's historic West Canfield Street, Sat. July 28.

A water department release said crews first would excavate the area, then  the historic brick pavers will be repaired as well as damaged sidewalks and lawns. 

Canfield residents who experienced property damage as a result of the break can call (313) 267-8000 to get a claim number and then complete a form that can be printed from


The district, founded in 1813  and residents say they are worried about the damage to the “priceless pavement.”

“Most of these homes have been renovated and a lot of Wayne State students rent here, but we’re just hoping the cobblestone is going to be OK,” said Hunter Rosenblume.

The West Canfield Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places and features homes in the Queen Anne and Gothic architectural style. When the homes were first being built up, they served as a prime location for upper-middle class residents of the city. 

Many of Detroit's most prominent attorneys, physicians, dentists and architects owned homes on West Canfield in 1871. In the 1880s, the area became commonly known as Piety Hill because of the alleged social and moral character of its residents. 

Using a grant in the 1970s, residents were able restore the look of the street, bringing in granite paving blocks from old Atwater Street — which now lies beneath the Renaissance Center, according to the historic district's website.  They also brought in sandstone curbs salvaged from various places around the city and put in honey locust trees.

The damage done by the water disheartened residents and bystanders.

"It's devastating for everyone in the community" said Vial. "Hopefully they can fix it."

At least one resident, a golden retriever, enjoyed the small river, repeatedly jumping in and swimming down the street.

The DWSD urges the public to avoid standing water and to report it by calling (313) 267-8000.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_