Governor Declares Flood Disaster in Detroit Metro Area
By Tresa Baldas, Christina Hall and Robert Allen
Nearly 24-hours after witnessing the devastation himself, Gov. Rick Snyder today declared a disaster for metro Detroit counties in the wake of a historic flood that left a huge path of destruction across the region.
Thousands of flooded basements and raw sewage spills. Wrecked cars. A massive sinkhole and damaged freeways. Ongoing traffic nightmares.
Metro Detroit is dealing with all of this -- and more. Adding to the chaos, scavengers are now going through water-logged debris that people are putting out on the curb for trash. Where that ends up is uncertain, triggering yet more public health concerns.
The devastation has left local officials exasperated and pleading for help, saying there is no way their communities can handle this on their own. They are in dire need of state and federal aid, they say. And it needs to come fast.
"This is a public health issue," said Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, whose city was among the hardest hit. "A lot of people are living in houses that smell like sewer."
Snyder says efforts are under way to help the region.
"We are actively pursuing all potential avenues of assistance, including applicable federal relief programs to ensure that all appropriate resources are secured for our hardest hit communities in southeast Michigan," Snyder said in a statement today.
Snyder's emergency declaration came nearly 24 hours after the governor interrupted a four-day visit to the Upper Peninsula to board a state helicopter and survey the flood damage. After his helicopter ride, he declared the flooding "a disaster in every sense of the word."
The governor's declaration likely sets stage for state to determine damage and whether the state has the ability to cover the costs on its own. If the state feels it can't cover the losses, Snyder would ask FEMA to come in and -- with local involvement -- assess the damages. Then, seeing the range of losses, the state could ask the president to declare a disaster and open up the federal coffers for disaster assistance.
On Capitol Hill, Michigan U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow vowed to help, noting Snyder's disaster declaration is an essential step before the state can request federal assistance.
For residents like Val Moskalik, 43, of Oak Park, the help can't come too soon.
Moskalik and her husband have spent two days lugging belongings from their flooded basement. She said the water includes sewage, which neighbors reported shooting out of their toilets and showers, creating a foul smell that six fans and two dehumidifiers can't cut through.
"(The smell) is getting kind of bad now," Moskalik said on Wednesday. "The smell is permeating through the house."
Many flood victims are getting hit with a double-whammy: no insurance coverage.
According to Theodore Quisenberry, manager of Oakland County Homeland Security, many people don't have a sewer rider on their insurance and no coverage available. Making matters worse, he said, it's "extremely rare that public funds can go to private losses."
"They had a false sense of information that their insurance covered (the damage)," Quisenberry said.
County and local officials are still assessing damage estimates. In Royal Oak alone, about 3,000 people dealing with sewer-backup issues had requested claim forms from the city by mid-afternoon Wednesday. Another 2,000-3,000 houses were hit by floods in Hazel Park.
Monday's heavy rains drenched some parts with up to 6 inches of rain, including Warren, where many residents have told the mayor that they don't have the money to pump or clean their basements, or they can't find anyone to do so because so many people have been impacted.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who also declared a local state of emergency in that county Wednesday, said he's concerned about future infrastructure problems and erosion from water sitting on the roadways. Potholes were bad enough this past winter, he noted, adding infrastructure problems may get worse without funding.
"This is going to magnify the effect," Hackel said, adding the state needs to come up with financial help.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson also said finances are needed for debris removal, repairs, overtime expenses, money for uninsured public and private properties, among other needs.
In a letter to Snyder, Patterson said: "Local resources are not sufficient to cope with the situation."
In Center Line, one of the biggest flood-related problems is scavengers going through water-logged debris that people are putting out on the curb for trash. City Manager John Michrina said one resident called Wednesday to say that a man was seen eating pizza with one hand and going through garbage with the other. He then put a trash bag on the front seat of his car and left.
"I can't think of a more unsanitary image than that," he said. "This stuff needs to be destroyed."
Royal Oak Community Engagement Specialist Judy Davids walked the city's neighborhoods on Wednesday and saw people's lives on the curbs: Christmas trees and toys mixed with boxes from fans and wet vacs.
She also recalled getting phone calls from flood victims, a few of them were grown men, crying.
"I hear in their voices the heartache and backache," she said.
In the Shelby Township-Utica area, a large sinkhole that opened on Hayes Road, south of 24 Mile Road, is expected to be repaired by Sunday. A county official said a 6-inch-wide pipe that was under the road surface rusted and collapsed, most likely when water washed away sand that was supporting it.
In Hamtramck, city officials are urging residents to call the Department of Public Works and report any damage to homes and basements. In addition, the city is holding a special trash pickup on Saturday starting at 10 a.m. for flood-damaged items and debris.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross is urging residents to take precaution when coming into contact with floodwater. When cleaning up, people should wear protective clothing and gloves and discard any items that have come in contact with the water, the agency said.
In the days to come, the American Red Cross' southeast Michigan chapter plans to open an emergency shelter for flood victims at the Garden City Middle School. Residents will be offered meals and minor first aid.
(c)2014 the Detroit Free Press