FEMA teams deploy to flood-damaged homes in Wayne, Washtenaw counties

Detroit — Disaster assistance teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency began door-to-door visits Wednesday in several cities in Wayne and Washtenaw counties to register residents hit hard by June flooding for potential assistance.

More:June flood victims in Wayne, Washtenaw county have until Sept. 13 to apply for federal aid

FEMA teams began the day in the city's Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood on the east side. They also made visits to homeowners in Dearborn and in Ypsilanti. Six teams will continue to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily in impacted areas in the two counties over the next few weeks. 

On Wednesday, the federal disaster teams planned to visit upwards of 800 homes to take information on flood-damaged properties. Rainstorms June 25 26 dumped six inches of rain in Detroit over a five-hour span. Thousands of residents on the city's east side, nearby Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, and sections of the Grosse Pointe communities experienced basement backups. 

Homeowners Earl, far left, and Susan Griffin talk with FEMA employees about registering for FEMA assistance to help homeowners who were affected by recent storm and flood damage.

The FEMA teams arrived days after President Joe Biden granted an emergency declaration Thursday for Michigan at the request of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Impacted residents have until Sept. 13 to apply for federal aid, officials said during a virtual Wednesday town hall organized by U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield.

Lawrence was joined by Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, representatives of FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration and Wayne County's Homeland Security & Emergency Management team.

Whitmer has estimated that as many as 68,000 applicants might be eligible for about $180 million in federal individual or household assistance based on preliminary assessments. She told FEMA that "almost none" of the affected households have insurance that would cover typical flood damage.

"We are here to support the state, county and the cities to help out with things that they don't have the manpower to do," said Tom Hardy, an intergovernmental affairs officer for FEMA.

Hardy said FEMA will be here on the ground for at least a month and that most officials stay "until we're not needed anymore."

Detroit resident Dennis Bell was visited by FEMA Wednesday morning and he was skeptical. He said he "doesn't have faith" that the registration will lead to any help. 

When prior rainstorms flooded his basement in 2014, Bell said he "didn't get anything for free" and "probably won't get anything this time."

In 2014, a record of 4.57 inches of rainfall fell on Detroit, prompting President Barack Obama to declare a disaster for the city.

Bell, 62, contends a federal loan won't be helpful to him. He's retired, he said, and won't be able to pay it back. He expects to cover the losses himself and plans to "never put anything back down" in the basement.

Bell said he checked his basement on the morning of June 26 and couldn't get to the bottom. The water, he said, was several steps high and he estimates the flooding caused at least $25,000 in damage, mainly to appliances and tools. 

He hopes going forward that the city will better inform residents about rainstorms and preparations to take. 

"Every time it rains you cringe, like what's going to happen this time?" he added. 

The canvassing process will continue until FEMA teams go to “all the areas that were hit,” added Marty Moore, a FEMA task force leader. FEMA officers rely on local officials to notify them if there are neighborhoods that have not been vetted yet, Moore added. 

FEMA employees Lauren Graham, second from left, and Jaquor Faison, far right, talk with homeowners who were affected by recent severe storms and flooding in Detroit.

The process after registration involves an inspector reaching out to resident to further discuss the damage. Then FEMA will check if the homeowner’s insurance will cover damages. If not, they will notify local organizations to assist.

After that, the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loan Assistance program might offer a loan. If residents have challenges obtaining a loan they could be directed back to FEMA for a grant, said Sandy Jasmund, external affairs officer for FEMA.

"We want to make sure that anyone that was living in Wayne County or Washtenaw is aware that they are able to apply for FEMA assistance if they're eligible," Jasmund said.

Julie Garrett, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Small Business Administration, noted Sept. 13 is also the deadline for getting help from her agency. The SBA provides low-interest loans to private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters affected by disasters. 

More than just canvassing, FEMA teams are also opening temporary offices for the next two months, Jasmund said. 

"There'll be other types of offices, like disaster recovery centers opening up," she said. "It'll be ongoing for the next 60 days."

After that time, local workers will be in place to take over the recovery operations. 

FEMA is working to "hire local people and train them to take our place — so that that helps the local economy," Hardy said. 

FEMA is split into ten regions across the United States and its territories. Michigan is in Region 5, which covers six states around the Great Lakes and is headquartered in Chicago.