Flooding prompts basement backups, freeway closures in Metro Detroit. Again

Residents of Detroit's Brace Street have grown used to a vexing routine this summer after a series of thunderstorms caused disastrous flooding in Metro Detroit.

The sky darkens and the rain falls fast. Their street floods and their basements fill. Then, they clean up the damage.

It happened again Friday when a rapid accumulation of 2-4 inches of rainfall across Metro Detroit sent some residents into the third flood cleanup since late June. 

The National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning, and many highways and city streets closed due to the rising water. 

Pamela McKinney reacts to the flooding in front of her home on Sorrento Ave. in Detroit, August 27, 2021. “I’m going to buy a boat,” said McKinney. Recent heavy rains have left some Detroit homeowners with wet basements for the third time this summer.

Veronica Armstead, 64, lives on Brace in Warrendale, one of the city's flood-prone neighborhoods. 

"There was an SUV in front of a neighbor's house, and the water had gotten as high as the top of his tires," Armstead said. "To get into the vehicle you'd have to have on some boots, over-the-knee boots in order not to get wet."

Detroit's southeast neighborhoods and the Aviation Subdivision also were affected by Friday's flooding, said Detroit Water and Sewerage Department spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh, adding the department sent crews out to clear storm drains before the rain began. Crews will work through the evening and weekend to respond to flooding and backups.

Antonio Aguilar (left) and his brother Wilson Aguilar push a vehicle from flooded Dayton Street near Brace Street in Detroit on Friday, August 27, 2021.

"We hope to resolve those as quickly as possible," Peckinpaugh said. "Once the rain stops, the water should recede. It's likely we'll be working through the weekend on water basement complaints, depending on the volume of complaints we get.

As of Friday evening, DTE Energy reported about 13,000 outages and Consumers Energy said about 500 customers were impacted by 47 outages. The National Weather Service reported trees and power lines down in such areas as Grosse Pointe Farms.

The heavy rainfall on Friday comes after a series of storms damaged thousands of homes in Detroit and several surrounding communities earlier this summer, resulting in a federal disaster declaration. Dearborn and Dearborn Heights were among the other areas hard-hit by summer floods and sections of those cities endured more damage on Friday, with social media posts depicting flooded underpasses and residential streets. 

Joumana Aode of Dearborn, who lost belongings after as much as 3 feet of water flooded her home in late June, recently invested thousands of dollars in a backup sewer system so she wouldn’t face a repeat.

That spared her basement Friday, but the family’s backyard saw lots of water, she said.

Aode said she had to find different routes for her commute home from work to avoid deluged intersections and still faced water-covered roads.

“It was like a pond,” she said, adding her sister's basement was flooding in nearby Dearborn Heights. “I was driving so slow.”

In Detroit's Aviation neighborhood, residents found themselves trying to dry out their basements for the third time this summer. 

Theresa Johnson, 93, said a team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency helped remove furniture and flood-soaked boxes from her basement after rains in late June. They still have to come back and replace her drywall and floors, she said. 

Friday was the second time she's had water in there since June. 

"It only rained for about an hour, and again, look how horrible this is," she said, pointing to more than a foot of standing water at the intersection near her home. "There are disasters all over, but this we can eliminate. There are steps we can take, and they're not happening."

Johnson's neighbors, Henry and Betty Verner, are considering hiring a photographer to take new wedding photos for their 25th anniversary on Monday after floods destroyed their originals. The couple said they are considering moving, but worry the persistent flooding will deter prospective buyers. 

Down the street, Helena Derrick estimated that between ruined appliances, furniture and clothes, flooding this summer will cost her more than $25,000 — even before she finishes replacing her walls and floors.

"I've got estimates for repairs, but getting somebody to work on it is hard," she said. "And what are they supposed to do if they go down there and it's all under water again?"

Helena Derrick reacts to the flooding in the basement of her home on MacKenzie St., in Detroit, August 27, 2021.  Recent heavy rains have left some Detroit homeowners with wet basements for the third time this summer.

Pamela McKinney, another neighbor, has lived in her house for about 50 years. She's seen some bad flooding, she said, but this year has been one of the worst. In June, the water in her basement reached her waist. She said she got rashes and hives from wading in it to try to save what she could.

"This is overwhelming. It's just too much," she said. "I'm going to need to get a boat just to get out to the street. Even after it stops raining, it just sits and has nowhere to go."

Armstead and her neighbors experienced flooding after those storms, too. 

"The last time it happened, it not only rained and the basement flooded, but we also lost power," she said. "I was without power for 24 to 36 hours. I'm living in the dark, the basement's flooded, food is thawing out and spoiling. Yeah, I was really upset."

Armstead said the city should fix its infrastructure to prevent future flooding in Warrendale and other areas. "With the kind of money they're charging people in Detroit for water, I think there's money to do that," she said. 

Heavy rain, closed freeways 

The flash flooding receded by around 4 p.m. Friday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Manion. The weather service issued a flash flood warning Friday afternoon for parts of Metro Detroit. 

Between 1 and 4 inches of rain fell between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., Manion said, enough to cause urban areas to flood. Garden City reported 3.73 inches of rainfall in four hours, according to the weather service website.

"Any time we get above 2 inches for the Detroit metro area we start to observe problems," Manion said, "particularly in the Dearborn area and the I-94, I-96 corridor."

The Great Lakes Water Authority, which is under scrutiny for recent floods, issued a statement Friday, noting the regional system "is working as designed and is in dry weather conditions, and currently has capacity to handle the expected flows into the system. In anticipation of the severe weather, GLWA has staffed accordingly."

One of GLWA's pump stations was down during a major rainstorm in June, likely contributing to the flooding that followed. GLWA staff knew about the outage before the storm. The authority is in the midst of a study to determine what happened.

More:GLWA staff noted power outage at Detroit pump station in log book, didn't notify leaders

Flooding from the heavy rain closed a couple of area freeways during Friday's storm.

Portions of the Lodge Freeway were closed in Oakland County, as were sections of Interstates 96 and 94, the Michigan Department of Transportation said. 

Only the Southfield Freeway remained closed late Friday. The Southfield Freeway shut down between Ford Road and I-96 because of flooding under the Tireman Avenue bridge. MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross said it likely would take into the evening for the water to recede for MDOT crews to tow four stranded vehicles and to inspect the area before reopening the road. 

Officials warn motorists not to drive through standing water. 

Motorists splash through a flooded Grand River Avenue near Arcadia Street in Detroit on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

Rain to return 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier Friday requested a presidential disaster declaration for Oakland and Macomb counties following severe weather earlier this summer.

President Joe Biden had already issued similar declarations for Wayne and Washtenaw counties, but recent assessments in Oakland and Macomb prompted the governor to add them to the request.

The damage in Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne and Macomb occurred after heavy rainfall and flooding on June 25 and 26. Besides the late June weather, Whitmer, in her request, detailed severe weather incidents July 7, 14, 16, 24 and 25 and Aug. 11.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday encouraged residents affected by the June flooding to apply for $56 million in federal aid available "just for Detroiters."

As of Friday, nearly 35,000 households in southeast Michigan had been approved for FEMA grant funding totaling $100 million tied to the late June flooding and storms, federal officials noted in a Friday statement. 

The sum included $82 million in housing grants covering short-term rental assistance and home repair costs and more than $18 million approved for essential disaster-related needs such as medical or dental expenses and lost personal possessions.

The grant funding, combined with $59 million in low-interest loans provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration, added up to nearly $160 million in total federal assistance to residents in Wayne and Washtenaw counties. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Friday reminded Detroit residents to beware of scams related to flood cleanup — like the sale of water-damaged cars or contractors who collect money for work they don't perform — and report scammers to her office's consumer protection team.

"Michigan residents have endured tremendous hardship due to severe weather in recent months, and unfortunately, many in and around Detroit are once again dealing with flooding," Nessel said in a Friday statement. "I want to remind everyone to do your research in the aftermath of any devastating situation."

Storms are likely to return to the region this weekend, the weather service said.

The forecast calls for a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms on Sunday as the mercury rises into the 90s. Wind gusts could top 20 mph.

"A few storms Sunday may be strong to severe," the weather service said. "Any thunderstorm will be capable of very heavy rainfall and the potential for flooding."

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.