Peters tours Wayne County communities hit by flooding

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
U.S. Senator Gary Peters finds piles of furniture and other household items at the curb of a home on Luana Avenue in Allen Park during a tour of flood-damaged areas in Metro Detroit on Sunday.

Detroit — For the second time in a few years, Megan and Mark Buchanan are picking up the pieces after flood waters destroyed basement cabinets, furniture and priceless keepsakes made by their two young children.

The Allen Park couple paid $2,300 for restoration crews to help clear out and sanitize the area.The family has some insurance, but it won't help to rebuild after the damage. That, they expect, could be thousands of dollars more.

The Buchanans shared their story Sunday with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, who traveled to the neighborhood and others to survey the aftermath of widespread flooding that hit Wayne County residents in communities from Dearborn Heights to Detroit's east side.

Megan Buchanan said she and her husband lost treasured artwork and mementos that had been stored in plastic containers. 

"It just is in shreds," she said. "It's irreplaceable."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday declared a state of emergency for Wayne County, days after heavy rains prompted widespread flooding.

Whitmer's declaration makes available state resources that will coordinate with local response and recovery efforts. The designation authorizes the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division to coordinate state efforts beyond what those agencies already were doing, according to a news release by the Governor's Office.

Peters, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said officials are waiting for a preliminary determination on the extent of the damage and whether the state would qualify for a federal response. If so, Peters said he'll work to help usher the process along. 

To qualify, certain criteria must be met as well as a damage threshold of about $15 million, he said. 

"We're waiting on those details, but I felt it was important for me to see it first-hand as we await those results," Peters said. "The important thing is we are seeing these storms come more frequently. Clearly, it's happening more often than people anticipate."

Peters said officials believe thousands may have been affected by the flooding but an  overall damage assessment is ongoing. A determination on whether the state could apply for federal aid may not come for weeks.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, who has declared a county state of emergency, said about 3,000 homes in the county, including Detroit, were damaged by flooding. He said local resources to deal with the damage were inadequate.

Record-setting rainfall 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, 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 record for the date was 1.46 in 1875.   

The heavy rainfall swamped homes and prompted the closure of a stretch of the Southfield Freeway in both directions. The conditions led the 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.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters walks through a sandbag filling station at Alfred Brush Ford Park in Detroit as he toured flood-damaged areas on Sunday, days after historic rainfall caused widespread flooding in Metro Detroit.

The area, on Detroit's far east side, flooded after water poured over canal barriers. The breach prompted a call from city leaders for volunteers to fill and stack some 50,000 sandbags.

On Sunday, Brad Dick, the city's infrastructure executive, said Detroit had about 400 volunteers to help fill sandbags. So far, close to 40,000 of the sandbags have been distributed and about 100 seawalls have been built up since Tuesday. Dick said the last major flood in the area hit in 1985. 

"From my understanding from residents, this is the worst they've seen," Dick said, noting the water may not peak until June. 

Earlier in the week, officials said that the seawalls in the Detroit neighborhood haven't been consistently maintained. Residents are responsible for caring for the barriers, but city officials have said about a third of the 303 homes haven't done so. 

Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas, who lives along the river in the Jefferson Chalmers area, called the issue "devastating."

"It is a lower economic based community. Some of the maintenance has been deferred simply because of cost," she said. "We're trying to save it. I'm glad the senator came by to see first-hand."