FEMA to evaluate flood damage in Detroit next week

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city is expanding its flood relief efforts through the holiday weekend and expects federal officials will be on the ground here next week to evaluate the damage, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Thursday.

Duggan said he will meet with President Joe Biden during the president's scheduled visit to Traverse City on Saturday to advocate for federal support. 

"I will talk to him about the magnitude of what we're facing, not just for Detroit, but all of southeastern Michigan," the mayor said during a Thursday press update at the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters. "I'll be pitching Dearborn, Grosse Pointe, Ann Arbor and Bloomfield and other cities that were hit so hard, but to impress upon the president the urgency of an early declaration of a major disaster."

Detroit Water Sewer Department Director Gary Brown speaks in front of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan during a press conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters in Detroit, Michigan on June 28, 2021.

It's anticipated that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be in the city evaluating conditions on July 8. Duggan is urging impacted Detroit residents to keep photographs of damaged property and receipts for their spending on cleanup efforts. 

Detroit was hit with more than six inches of rainfall over a five-hour span overnight Friday and into early Saturday. The storm resulted in basement backups for thousands of homes, primarily in communities on the city's east side. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Wayne County on Saturday to tap state resources with local response and recovery efforts. Dearborn and Grosse Pointe communities also were hit hard by the flood waters. 

Should Biden approve the declaration of disaster, with a recommendation from FEMA, residents could receive funds to fix their damaged homes.

Duggan said Thursday that city crews will be tackling neighborhoods by most-impacted to least impacted, starting with Jefferson Chalmers on Thursday. On Friday, they will be moving through east side neighborhoods including Morningside, East English Village, East Canfield and Chandler Park. On the west side, clean-up will be underway in Warrendale, Barton McFarlane, Aviation, WACO, Franklin Park, Cody Rouge, Littlefield.

Detroit officials are also investigating the cause of a power failure at a recently upgraded Conner Creek pumping station during the historic weekend flooding.

Gary Brown, director of Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department, told the city council on Tuesday that DWSD intends to bring on an independent engineering firm to evaluate what led to the two-hour power failure at the facility. 

Brown noted a separate investigation of issues involving the lower east side pumping station on Freud Street took place after heavy rains in 2016. Since then, Brown added, $30 million has been invested into the station "to rebuild those pumps and those pumps worked as designed."

"This was a storm of epic proportion," Brown said Thursday when asked about the Conner Creek failure. "No matter had this system been operating perfectly, the streets of Detroit were going to flood based on the sheer volume that overtook the system."

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said Wednesday that she wants answers after she heard reports of backup generators for the pumps at the facility did not turn on.

"They're failing to point out, this is a regional operation that Macomb has been playing a management role all along," Duggan said. "Every pump station should work, at all times during all storms. We do need to know why it was down, but don't let them frame this as if they're investigating somebody else."

Duggan said 150 people have volunteered to join 60 city crew members to pick up damaged items in front of houses and clean the basements of elderly or disabled residents.

The city, he said, is in the early stages of the cleanup effort and was removing 1,000 tons of garbage on Thursday. All of the city's 28 garbage trucks are running and are being assisted by 43 additional crews from other projects in and around the city for a total of 71 pick-up crews.

Volunteers are needed for the four-hour shifts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 1 to 5 p.m. The city will provide protective gear and shirts. Residents can fill out a volunteer form online at detroitmi.gov or by calling (313) 267-8000. 

Earlier Thursday, Detroit's water department gave the all-clear for residents and businesses in east side neighborhoods to resume drinking water from their taps following reports the day prior of rusty water.

A Thursday update from the Great Lakes Water Authority noted that Detroit found a six-inch water main break, but that officials were continuing to look for additional issues with the system. 

Brown, during the Thursday briefing, said investigation found there was a disruption to the water main that feeds the neighborhood surrounding Ascension St. John's Hospital causing sediment to enter the taps.

DWSD received calls from the hospital and more than 150 surrounding residents in District 4 about the brown water on Wednesday.

The impacted communities of East English Village, Cornerstone and Morningside can resume water use after flushing their pipes for five to 10 minutes.