Wayne County declares state of emergency in Flat Rock after spill in sewer

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Flat Rock — A hazardous material spill Monday night in Flat Rock's sanitary sewer system caused the evacuation of a school and four homes and prompted Wayne County Executive Warren Evans to declare a state of emergency.

The emergency declaration was issued just after 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. It does not affect drinking water in the south Wayne County community of 10,000, the county said in a statement announced the order Thursday evening. 

The scent of gasoline was observed Thursday outside a pump station at Olmstead and Cottonwood in Flat Rock. Wayne County has declared a state of emergency as city, county, state and federal environmental officials work to pinpoint the cause of the odor. Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare an emergency as well to speed cleanup efforts.

Evans has asked that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declare a state of emergency in Flat Rock "as a way to speed cleanup of and investigation into the spill," the county said in its statement. 

County officials noted they are still trying to "identify this flammable substance and locate its source."

"Out of an abundance of caution," the county said, River Heights Academy and four homes were evacuated. Kids weren't at the school at the time, the county noted. 

The smell was noticed in the Hickory Ridge subdivision, south of Vreeland, east of Telegraph. Flat Rock officials, Wayne County hazardous waste staff, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Michigan were all on-site.

In a Thursday letter to Whitmer, state Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, Democratic Caucus chair, and House Energy Chairman Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, joined the county in a call for the governor to declare an emergency.

The lawmakers noted the "hazardous odor that is indicative of flammable, dangerous gasses permeated through the Flat Rock sanitary sewer system and into residential neighborhoods."

If the situation is not handled swiftly, they said, "the health of residents as well as homes, schools, businesses, and other property in the area could be at risk."

Whitmer late Thursday declared an emergency for the city of Flat Rock and Wayne and Monroe counties. The declaration authorizes the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division to coordinate state resources and efforts.

A news release from Whitmer's office said that "high levels of an unknown gas" were found in the city sewer system.

Flat Rock residents who smell gasoline odors in their homes should call (734) 782-2496, the county said.

People in other communities who smell gasoline should call 911.