Cities respond to record rainfall, floods

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Photo by Scott Bewick
Damaged property from flooded basements line the curb at Neckel and Ruby in Dearborn Thursday. Storms Aug. 11 and 12 dumped up to six inches of rain over the area, causing flooding in basements in both residential and commercial properties in both Dearborn and Dearborn Heights.

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

The cities of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights are recovering from the series of storms that dropped about six inches of rain in the area in less than 36 hours, causing road closures and extensive flooding to streets and basements.

Beginning about 11 a.m. Aug. 11, strong storms moved into the area and dropped rain for several hours.

The Southfield Freeway was flooded, as were several residential roads and Telegraph Road underneath Michigan Avenue.

The flooding also affected Oakwood Hospital, which was forced to close its emergency room for two days before re-opening it on its second floor.

Dearborn DPW Deputy Director Eric White said the amount of rain that fell was unprecedented.

“During a very big storm we might get two inches of rain in two hours, which can start developing problems with water systems,” White said. “On Aug. 11 we basically had three times that amount fall. During the first wave of the storm we filled up our system and then had another 3.5 inches dumped on top of that. Something had to give.”

He added that the storm was a first for him.

“This storm exceeded anything I’ve ever seen before in terms of volume and intensity,” White said. “I’ve never seen anything like this around here.”

Dearborn Water and Sewage Supt. Jeff Salem said about 5.8 inches of rain fell between 11:10 a.m. and 7:10 p.m, as measured at Michigan Avenue and Outer Drive.

“There was nowhere for the water to go,” Salem said.

Fire Chief Joe Murray said the department responded to 86 calls during the storm, predominantly to check on smoke and electrical issues in flooded basements and assist motorists stranded by flooded streets.

“Luckily, we didn’t have any cases of significant fire damage, just investigations in basements,” Murray said.

He also said that like residents, rescue workers had a hard time navigating the streets.

“We couldn’t go a mile without having to divert the route because the water was so high in different areas,” Murray said. “It was definitely a challenge, but it went as well as it could have.

“Now we have to go through the data and evaluate what we did well or bad and use it to improve and help us prepare in case this ever happens again.”

Murray said that besides having trouble passing over city streets, the department had to re-route ambulance services to hospitals in Detroit, Taylor and Garden City because of the flooding at Oakwood.

“The closing of Oakwood was very problematic for us because 90 percent of our pickups are taken there,” Murray said. “It was a challenge to get people to other hospitals because the roads were so bad.”

He added that by Wednesday “business was pretty much back to usual” and that the department is currently working with Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly’s office to try to get an assessment of how much damage took place across the city because of the storms.

Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko said Aug. 12 that the city was following its “Emergency Preparedness Plan” and that things were going about as well as could be expected.

“Our emergency crews have done a wonderful job,” Paletko said. “We’re also working with neighboring communities to stay on top of the situation.”

Mayors in both Dearborn and Dearborn Heights asked for Wayne County officials to declare a state of emergency, which happened the day following the floods.

O’Reilly said the declaration would provide “critical information in support of Wayne County and the state of Michigan” to help them “potentially become eligible for state help and federal resources.”

“By issuing this declaration for Dearborn, we are supporting the efforts of Wayne County and the state to request federal resources for the region and our community,” O’Reilly said.

“We will be adding to the state and county’s data that illustrates the tremendous impact this record rainfall had on our city and our residents. We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to secure all potential resources for our residents.”

He added that reports are still being gathered, but preliminary investigations indicate that about 40 percent of residential and commercial properties in the city experienced flooding or sewer backups in their basements following the storm and that more than 75 percent of Dearborn’s roads, including state, local and county roads and main arteries were flooded and impassable after the storms.

Sections of city hall were also closed due to flooding.

Gov. Rick Snyder declared the areas of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties a disaster area Aug. 12, saying “the flooding that continues to impact southeastern Michigan is a disaster in every sense of the word.

“As local and state authorities work around the clock to deal with this situation, it is clear that the significant personal property and infrastructure damage, coupled with ongoing threats to public safety, warrants this state declaration.

“By taking this action, the state can fully coordinate and maximize efforts to support its local partners.”

Because the area was declared a disaster area, more state funds could be allocated to help individual communities effected by flooding.

Snyder also announced plans to apply for federal aid from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“In addition to the state declaration of disaster, 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.

Following the storms, Dearborn Public Information Director Mary Laundroche said residents could put their damaged goods and belongings on the curb, regardless of their normal trash pickup day, for pickup free of charge.

Residents were also allowed to transport the damaged materials themselves to the DPW yard, 2915 Greenfield, and dispose of them.

In Dearborn, claim forms for property damaged in the flooding are available on the city’s website, www.cityofdearborn.org, or in person at the Legal Department inside City Hall, 13615 Michigan Ave.

The website also has instructions on how to file a claim with the city for property damaged by flooding as specific conditions apply for potential payments and those are outlined online..

In Dearborn Heights, can contact either 313-277-6770 or Paletko’s office at 313-791-3493 for information on filing claims for flood damage.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)