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 2 p.m. press conference, 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.”
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 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.
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.
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, Westley 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.”
Lisa Milton, owner of Redesign and Restoration, was carrying a box fan over to one of her neighbors shortly after noon. What she believed to be sewage water had seeped into her store, but caused minimal damage. A rug in front of her door helped prevent more serious flooding, she said.
At 11:30 a.m. Saturday, 46,000 homes were without power, including nearly 42,400 DTE customers. About 290 crews are out in the field tending to pockets of Sterling Heights, Madison Heights, Grosse Pointe, Detroit and Dearborn, where more than 2,500 homes in each city are without power.
Additionally, 3,945 Consumers Energy customers were without power with more than 125 homes affected. Crews are out near Flushing, Midland, Grand Rapids, Bowne and Easton Township.
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.