White House approves Michigan disaster declaration

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Help is on the way for Michiganians whose homes, property and businesses were devastated by last month's sudden and severe flooding.

Under a disaster declaration Thursday from Washington, they may be eligible for grants for temporary housing and home repairs, plus low-interest loans to cover uninsured losses.

"I guess with anything it's all talk until there is action," said Warren resident Gretchen Domino, who hopes for a grant for damages caused when her basement wall blew out from the flooding.

"That would be a wonderful thing," said Domino, 46, who lives in an RV on her property. "You got to see to believe. I'll keep my fingers crossed."

It's the second federal disaster designation for the state since late 2008, and will help defer at least $1.1 billion in damage suffered by more than 118,000 homeowners and businesses Aug. 11-13. The deluge caused an estimated $16.7 million in public damage to public buildings and equipment, as well as debris removal.

Parts of Metro Detroit got more than 4½ inches of rain Aug. 11 — the second highest rainfall total recorded for a single day. Basements were flooded; motorists were stranded on water-covered freeways; and building foundations caved in.

More than 80 percent of the homeowners did not have flood or sewer backup insurance.

The declaration came just over a week after Gov. Rick Snyder, with support from most members of Michigan's congressional delegation, formally sought the assistance.

"We look forward to working with the president and FEMA on getting assistance to the individuals that were most affected and the public assistance," Snyder said.

It's too early to say how much total aid the state would receive, he said, but "now we can take the next steps" toward recovery.

Under the disaster declaration, Michigan residents hurt by flooding can receive assistance in a number of forms, such as a FEMA mobile home or travel trailer for up to 18 months; reimbursement for lodging expenses or rent; and money to fix their homes. Those whose homes were destroyed may qualify for financial assistance toward the purchase of a new one.

Property owners also may qualify for loans up to $200,000; renters and owners may secure low-cost loans of up to $40,000 to replace personal property destroyed by the flood waters.

Detroiter Delma Gregory, 62, is hoping for funds to replace a washer, dryer and mattress destroyed in the flooding. Water reached the second step in the basement of the home where she lives with her brother and sister-in-law. The furnace was also damaged.

"Washers and dryers are expensive," she said. "I'm going to get on it right away so I can get it replaced. Get on that paperwork."

In addition, some businesses may qualify for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.

Michigan State Police Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, who oversees state emergency response, urged citizens and communities "to seize the opportunity.

"With federal aid, our communities can initiate projects to save lives and protect public property and health," he said.

Warren was among the hardest hit communities; an estimated 40 percent of homes, nearly 23,000, were damaged along with the city's police station, district court and community center buildings.

Last month’s flooding is still affecting residents in Metro Detroit.

Mayor Jim Fouts estimated damage to the city, its residents and businesses at more than $210 million.

He called the declaration "a shot in the arm to all people who have been devastated by this, and no city has been hit harder than Warren," he said. "This is a major positive event for the residents of the city of Warren, and for the whole metro area. ...

"All too often, we hear about the U.S. going out to help flood victims in other disasters overseas," Fouts said. "It was time the president and governor look at flood victims in Michigan. Clearly this is a step in the right direction."

Fouts added many residents can't afford to replace furnaces that were damaged — and soon it will be cold enough outside where heat is needed in homes.

"Time is of the essence," he said.

The GM Tech Center was among the hardest-hit properties in Warren. Shortly after the flood, city of Warren officials told The Detroit News that GM had reported an estimated $75 million in flood damage at the Tech Center — about one-third of the city's total flood damage.

It's possible the figure has shifted as GM has continued its assessments, but GM would not confirm the figure and on Thursday said it does not plan to release its damage total.

Some 19,000 GM employees and contractors were displaced the day after the flood and many weren't allowed to return to their buildings for days. A week ago, cleanup at the Tech Center was still under way, with hundreds of contractors working to clean up flooded basements. Some buildings a week ago did not have hot water and many had been running on generators.

Insurance is expected to cover the majority of its cost and losses due to flooding at the Tech Center, GM spokesman Patrick Morrissey said Thursday. "Beyond that, we're not going to apply for any other assistance," he said.

Other hard-hit communities included Detroit, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Oak Park, Royal Oak, Southfield, Sterling Heights, Center Line and Clinton Township. Royal Oak Schools — with damage at the high and middle schools — had about $2 million in flood damage.

In Dearborn, 7,600 homes were damaged; the flood waters damaged 7 percent of Detroit homes.

Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter was thrilled to hear about the federal disaster declaration Thursday, since an estimated 60 percent of Ferndale's 11,000 home were affected by the rains and subsequent flooding.

"I am beyond happy that the federal government has recognized the severity of what happened during that flood," Coulter said. "For the residences that were affected, this will not be a handout. This will be legitimate aid residents need to put their homes and lives back together."

The state still needs help to meet needs such as temporary housing assistance, housing repair, debris removal, mold and contaminant removal, as well as replacement of damaged items.

A letter led by U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, sent last Thursday urged Obama to endorse the disaster declaration request. Michigan's two senators and 11 House members signed the letter.

Three Michigan Republicans did not sign — U.S. Reps. Justin Amash of Cascade Township, Kerry Bentivolio of Milford and Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls.

FEMA named Dolph A. Diemont to coordinate the Michigan disaster response.


Detroit News Staff Writers Candice Williams, Kim Kozlowski and Melissa Burden contributed.

For flood help

Individuals in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties can register with FEMA by:

■Applying online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.

■Applying via smartphone at m.fema.gov.

■Constituents may call the teleregistration phone number at 1-800-621-3362; those who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362.