Rain pain: Metro residents recover from floods, brace for storms
Heavy rainfall flooded homes, swallowed streets and caused waterways to overflow Wednesday in parts of Metro Detroit.
Another round of storms Thursday could smack the region still reeling from the downpour.
Thunderstorms are expected Thursday afternoon, leading the National Weather Service to issue a flood watch for Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, Washtenaw and Lenawee counties from 4 p.m. Thursday through 10 a.m. Friday. By Thursday evening, the chance of more rain rises to 70%, the weather service said.
Rainfall amounts in excess of 1 inch could be possible, "leading to renewed flooding potential of rural and urban areas," according to the weather service.
The flooding prompted Romulus Community Schools and Melvindale-Northern Allen Park Public Schools to cancel classes for Thursday.
On Wednesday, stalled cars were towed from flooded streets in some areas while residents were evacuated from homes by emergency workers with boats.
Several inches of record rainfall caused an already swollen Detroit River and Lake St. Clair, whose levels were at 30-year highs, to breach seawalls and flood neighborhoods.
Among the hardest hit areas were Dearborn Heights and the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood of Detroit.
Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko said he will ask the state to declare an emergency as his city set up a temporary shelter at its Justice Center.
"We're all tired," Paletko said as he greeted residents at the shelter. "The real key at this point is keeping everybody safe."
The flooding was exacerbated by high winds that pushed the water from Lake St. Clair to the Detroit River and the river onto land.
One of the neighborhoods affected by the rising river was Jefferson-Chalmers on Detroit's far east side, where the water poured over canal barriers.
"While the rain contributes some, the bigger risk is the wind," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said at Alfred Brush Ford Park.
Duggan had called a press conference to ask for volunteers to fill and stack 50,000 sandbags along the river. About 100 volunteers are needed a day, according to the city.
The neighborhood is vulnerable because the seawalls haven't been maintained, said city officials. Residents are responsible for caring for the barriers, but about third of the 303 homes haven't done so.
Resident Jan Ellison said she has maintained the seawall at her home since the early 1990s. But her neighbors failed to do so, and her yard still floods when the river overflows.
"Mine might be high, but if next door is low, I'm going to get water on my property," she said.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been working with the city the past two days to see what can be done to protect the homes.
Record-setting rainfall, not just for Tuesday but for the month of April, led to the flooding, according to the National Weather Service.
On Tuesday, 2.1 inches of rain fell at Detroit Metro Airport, which is the most since the weather service began measuring there in 1958. In April, 5.82 inches of rain was measured at the airport, which also was the most since 1958.
Some 1.17 inches was reported at the airport through late Wednesday, the weather service said. The record for the date was 1.46 in 1875.
The downpours come as Michigan has already been listed among the states the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said is facing an elevated risk for flooding this spring.
"In addition to heavy rainfall and flooding, the water level on the Great Lakes is elevated right now," said said Bryan Tilley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "When the wind picks up … it builds up waves and pushes water up against the shoreline. The combination of the higher water level and wave action makes the shoreline area more vulnerable to flooding."
The rain, besides saturating the ground, has caused waterways to rise, the weather service said. Lake St. Clair has risen 6 inches since last year.
The weather service said the water depth at Windmill Point near the lake and Detroit River is 577 feet.
The weather service didn't know whether the depth was a record, but Detroit city officials said both the lake and river were at 30-year highs.
And it's going to get higher, said Duggan. The river usually crests in early June.
"We expect the levels to continue to rise over the next several weeks," he said.
Also at a major flood stage was the Ecorse Creek, which was 9.77 feet high, said officials. The highest it ever reached was 10.2 feet. The level had dropped below 8 feet late Wednesday.
The rain left residents soaked and worried about their possessions and where they would live.
Laquae Lebon of Dearborn Heights said the water began seeping into her apartment early in the morning.
By noon Wednesday, she had seen enough. She called the city, and emergency workers moved her and her two children to the shelter.
"I think we basically have lost everything," she said.
She planned to stay with family Wednesday night. After that is a question mark, she said.
"I'm worried the whole house is going to be damaged," she said.
Alexandria Lamb of Dearborn Heights said the water began entering her one-story home Wednesday at 3 a.m.
Eventually, the water was all over the home, 3 inches deep on the floor.
Her boyfriend, two children and she came to the shelter. She fretted that she'll probably have to throw away most of her stuff.
"There were a lot of things we couldn't get up and off the floor in time," she said.
Dearborn Heights Fire Department has answered about 20 calls for service related to the flooding since about 4 a.m. Wednesday, said Fire Chief Dave Brogan.
Most of the flooding has taken place on the south side of town, he said.
Lee Gavin, formerly the city's police chief, and now its emergency management coordinator, said the city's Justice Center at Michigan Avenue and Beech Daly was open to the public as a shelter.
"I know the Fire Department has evacuated a few elderly, handicapped individuals," Gavin said. "We've got flooded basements and flooded streets."
The flooding wreaked havoc on area roads.
At one point Wednesday, as much as 6 inches of standing water floodedhalf a block of Tyler near Greenfield on Detroit's west side, the weather service reported.
The Michigan Department of Transportation reported flooding on parts of Interstate 94 and the Southfield Freeway in Wayne County. The eastbound and westbound ramps to M-39 in Allen Park, as well as the southbound and northbound M-39 lanes at Outer Drive, were closed late Wednesday, the transportation department said.
MDOT also planned to close the freeway between I-94 and Oakwood for at least part of the overnight hours, spokeswoman Diane Cross said.
"With all of the ground being saturated and that being the lowest point in area and nearby river and being ‘down river’ from so many other rivers, we’ve got a lot of water there," she said. "We don’t know when it will be cleared."
Staff Writers James David Dickson, Sarah Rahal and Mark Hicks contributed.