Whitmer declares state of emergency for Wayne County; Detroit seeks federal assistance after major flooding
Dearborn — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency for Wayne County, and Detroit is seeking federal disaster assistance after major flooding in Metro Detroit.
At a press conference Saturday afternoon, Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, said the city's operation system is at maximum capacity and if more than another inch of rain falls intensely Saturday, it could lead to another backup.
"With an extraordinary event like this, there is a significant amount of rain elevating water in the system, which is now returning to normal levels,” he said. "We are aware that hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Detroiter households have experienced water in their basements and sewer backups.”
Abandoned vehicles litter the freeways of Metro Detroit, homes and businesses are flooded, thousands are without power, and an unknown number are without phone service after heavy rainfall overnight caused massive flooding.
“We are continuing to work closely with emergency response coordinators and local leaders across the state to address widespread flooding,” Whitmer said in a written statement.
“The State Emergency Operations Center has been activated to coordinate our state’s response as we rush resources to affected areas, and the state of emergency declaration will help counties access even greater assistance.
"I want to thank everyone who has been working 24/7 to clear roadways, restore power and communications, provide emergency services, and make sure our neighbors have what they need to get through this storm.”
Michigan's Thumb and some surrounding areas are under a tornado watch until 10 p.m. Saturday. Metro Detroit's lower portion, including the city, and some western areas such as Ann Arbor remain under a flood watch Saturday afternoon.
Brown said the multiple weather services the city relies on predicted less than 2 inches of rain and the intensity of the storms exceeded the design standards of the sewer overflow facilities which are operated by the Great Lakes Water Authority.
“We know this is a heartbreaking situation and we intend to do everything we can to get back to normal as soon as possible,” Brown said. "With this much rain, there’s nowhere for the water to go other than flooding streets and basements.”
It all depends on the amount of rain headed towards Michigan Saturday night said Navid Mehram, chief operating officer of wastewater operating services for the Great Lakes Water Authority.
"Our system is designed to handle rain events," Mehram said. "When you have excessive intensity, although the system might be able to keep pumping when the bathtub is full, and the water keeps pouring, it's going to start spilling out the sides. We are working at maximum capacity to get the water out and protect the public health."
Rain totals peaked in Wayne County's Garden City and Grosse Pointe, which received 6.5 inches over 12 hours, "a substantial amount," said Steve Considine, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.
Cities from Detroit to Ann Arbor received between 4 to 6.5 inches, and the heavy rain has subsided for the morning, he said.
"There is risk for additional thunderstorms late this afternoon through tonight which could bring more heavy rainfall," Considine said. "A flood watch will remain in effect through Sunday morning with an additional 1-2 inches of rainfall expected. Locally higher amounts are possible where there are persistent thunderstorms."
Police urged motorists to avoid freeways and use extra caution on surface streets as more heavy rain and possible thunderstorms are expected throughout Saturday night.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, 38,000 homes were without power, including nearly 35,470 DTE customers. About 264 crews are out in the field tending to pockets of Plymouth, Westland, Detroit, West Bloomfield, Farmington Hills and Livonia, where more than 2,500 homes in each city are without power.
Additionally, 7,470 Consumers Energy customers were without power with more than 176 homes affected. Crews are out near Bangor, Hamlin Township, Lawrence Township, Sturgis, and Midland.
The Detroit Post of the Michigan State Police said Saturday morning that Wayne County has major freeway flooding and the "closer to Detroit and downtown the worse it gets."
Troopers are continuing to check and remove vehicles from the freeway and state police's Marine Services Team is checking submerged vehicles to make sure they are empty.
"No injuries from overnight," MSP Lt. Mike Shaw said. "Troops from both posts are out as well as our Marine Services Team checking the freeways as well as the nine townships we patrol. Water is starting to recede in some areas but one good rain and we could be back where we were."
Oakland and Macomb counties have some ponding on freeways and side streets, state police said. Police urge motorists to turn around and to not drive into standing water.
Motorists who abandoned their vehicles on the freeway should contact their state police post to find out where they were towed.
Parts of Detroit received more than 6 inches of rain causing street, and in some areas, basement flooding, city officials said.
Detroit's Brown said Saturday's storm is another example of global warming and how the city’s infrastructure needs to be more resilient to meet weather challenges. He said officials plan to investigate the city's system operations and are focusing on ensuring citizen safety.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Public Works, and General Services are assessing the storm's impact and launched a hotline to make claims for damaged property (313) 267-8000 for those who have experienced property damage from yesterday's rain events. Claims must be reported within 45 days.
City officials said residents should avoid driving through standing water, clear debris from above and around the storm drains, remove debris from gutters and "stay clear of standing water in your basement if the area includes electrical appliances, outlets, and a fuse box."
In Detroit's Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood on East Jefferson Avenue near the border with Grosse Pointe Park, business owners and employees helped each other begin the clean-up process Saturday after storm waters swept through their buildings.
Lee Padgett and Billy Strawter Jr., two of the owners of Busted Bra Shop, were working to dry their floors and clean away the mud that had seeped in through doors and windows. Some of their employees went on a food run to help sustain the cleanup effort.
Though they were fortunate that the flooding spared their merchandise, their situation was compounded by an AT&T outage affecting their phone and internet service.
The business, which has four other locations, also had to close its New Center store Saturday, which has been open for about seven years and hasn’t had this issue before, the owners said.
When they reopen the East Jefferson store, though, will depend on a factor many affected by the flooding are watching closely: the rain that is forecast to continue for days.
An AT&T spokesperson said mobility service for customers in the Detroit area is being restored as traffic is rerouted in the area, and teams continue to work to restore other services and repair equipment.
Another nearby business, Red Bag Boutique, has encountered numerous flooding issues over its six years in business, said Marion Wesley, who owns the shop with her sister.
By Saturday afternoon she had cleared away much of her clothing merchandise, some of which was damaged, and was cleaning up the floors. The basement underneath the shop, meanwhile, was submerged in water up to the stairs.
With so much damage already done and more rain coming, Wesley was unsure when she would be able to reopen, but hoped that some relief would be made available. And this closure, of course, follows months of being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I hope we can get some help,” she said. “I’m really overwhelmed.”
In Grosse Pointe Park, one of the worst cities for rainfall, one business created a new drink Saturday for people to drown their flooded basement woes over. Howlers and Growlers debuted the "Flood Water" drink, a midnight-green-colored Tequila drink.
"Guaranteed to make you forget about your basement flooding - at least temporarily," the bar wrote on Facebook.
Meanwhile, on the 900 block of Lakepointe in Grosse Pointe Park, numerous residents had carted damaged items to their curbs.
Jim Troscinski and his family were still going through some of their possessions from their basement that had been damaged, hoping they could salvage meaningful personal items. They stacked garbage bags full of expendable items at the curb.
Their basement, which they had recently finished, got about two feet of water, Troscinski said. One of their furnaces wasn’t working as of Saturday, making for a potentially costly repair or replacement. Also damaged or destroyed were new items such as flooring, furniture and drywall.
“It’s depressing,” said Troscinski. “It’s not so much the things. Right now we’re going through all our photographs and negatives.”
Chuck Pinter, 46, woke up at 3 a.m. to his 16-year-old son knocking on he and his wife’s bedroom door, letting them know that water was seeping into the basement where their son’s bedroom is.
By the time Pinter got down there, the water was two steps up from the floor.
Adding to the family’s frustration is that they had just fully redone the basement in 2019 after a previous flood damaged it in 2016. They’re not yet sure what they’ll do; an insurance claim has been filed, but they know they can’t put the same amount of money into it as they did just two years ago.
It’s also unclear when it will be safe to return to their home. They re-awoke Saturday to a strange smell, prompting them to call the fire department.
“You could smell the burnt electrical somewhere,” Pinter said. They believe water might have seeped into their furnace, causing something electrical to smoke or burn.
Pinter is now staying with three of four of the family’s dogs at a relative’s home while his wife and kids go ahead with a family vacation to Ocean City, Maryland that was supposed to start Saturday. Another family dog is lodged with a relative.
“Talking with neighbors here this morning, obviously we’re all frustrated with the current infrastructure as it is and obviously we’d all like to see changes made,” said Pinter.
Dearborn, Dearborn Heights impacted
Dearborn's east end is starting to see water levels decrease. The majority of the city's underpasses are flooded and multiple vehicles remain stranded, especially on Ford Road and Oakman Boulevard.
City engineers said Outer Drive had 7.58 inches of rain when sewer drains were only capable of handling 3 inches. More than 100 city service trucks are deployed in Dearborn to drain the flooding, which officials say dramatically affected east Dearborn neighborhoods north of Michigan Avenue and east of Greenfield.
There, phone service is limited and employees are working to address multiple neighborhood power outages.
Police Chief Ron Haddad said at a 4:30 p.m. press conference, that the city will be investigating cause of flooding and officials have drafted a plan to mitigate future storms.
"We’ve worked since late last night to keep the streets as clear as we can possible get them," Haddad said. "Aside from the basements, we’ve had several hundred cars abandoned under the bridges, freeway entrances and exits. If you don’t have to go out and it starts raining again, stay home. Do not pull under a lower end of a street with other cars under there.
"It makes no sense that 30 cars get locked in and we can’t rescue everyone," he said.
In response, Dearborn is offering an emergency shelter and cooling center for those without power at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, located at 15801 Michigan Ave. The city will be picking up bulk items starting Monday. All city-operated activities have been canceled, including the Motor City Brass Band performance on Sunday.
The city is advising residents affected by flooding to call (313) 943-3030 and will be distributing dry ice on Saturday evening.
Hayat Agha planned to spend Saturday celebrating her son's high school graduation at her home in Dearborn Heights near Ford Road and North Gulley Road. But by the afternoon, cleaning crews were still removing sewage water from her basement.
"We got about 9 inches of water in the basement that started about 11:30 p.m. last night," said Agha, who purchased the home in September. "In the basement, we had a bedroom and living room furniture. The water ruined our appliances and even got to the furnace. I truly don't even know what's completely damaged, we're just trying to get the water out."
After four hours at Agha's home, the cleaning service still had about three inches to drain from the basement.
Flooding is nothing new to Zeb Foxworth, who fears the next storm will lead to resident rescues in his area of Dearborn Heights like in February 2019, when his basement had five feet of water in it.
"I'm a nervous wreck it's gonna go above the couch this time," said Foxworth, 62. "The ground is saturated and it's not going to hold and when it storms, it happens so fast. We knew this was coming because we had no rain. It was inevitable."
Videos have emerged on social media of overnight road flooding also in Warrendale and Hamtramck.
Dearborn City Council President Susan Dabaja said the city faced similar flooding in 2014.
"We sprung into action to declare an emergency and secure funds for our city through FEMA," she said. "We approved emergency funding for trash pickups, and our city services worked around the clock to make sure the needs of residents were met. I want you to know that I hear you, and that we’re going to make sure that Dearborn and its citizens get the emergent attention needed to work through this trying time."
On Aug. 11, 2014, Metro Detroit was hit with the second-rainiest day it had seen in almost a century, as 4.5 inches of rain fell on the region in a four-hour time span, causing flooding and closures on many of the region's freeways, including Interstates 75, 696, 94 and the Southfield and Lodge.
Millions have been spent on flood mitigation in Metro Detroit in recent years — with $13 million spent in 2017 and 2018 combined.