After more than 6 inches of rain drenched Detroit and the surrounding area last month, residents in affected communities are still cleaning up in the aftermath as officials from the federal government assess the damage on the ground this week.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Mayor Mike Duggan asked residents to make insurance claims and clear flood debris as officials push for a presidential disaster declaration. Inspectors with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are in Wayne County this week going door to door to assess the damage to see if there’s enough destruction to warrant a federal disaster declaration and the money that comes with it. Michael Regan, EPA administrator, also visited the region Thursday.
“It is just critical that we get a presidential declaration of disaster relief.” —Mayor Mike Duggan
Duggan, who met with President Biden in Traverse City over the Fourth of July holiday, said the White House helped Detroit after flooding in 2014 when the government paid out more than $80 million for losses from that flood.
“This year is probably triple the size [of 2014],” Duggan said. “It is going to be an enormous amount of money. And our residents and a lot of the other communities’ residents suffered greatly. And so it is just critical that we get a presidential declaration of disaster relief.”
In 2014, Duggan said a disaster declaration was issued five weeks after that flood.
“President Biden told me that if we get our homework done again quickly, he will beat that record. He is quite committed,” he said.
Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, says city storm drains and sewer lines are still filled with debris, which could pose a problem the next time it rains.
“The night of the storm at 3 a.m., I was calling contractors saying I need your equipment for the next couple of months. So I locked down every vacuum truck in the area and we’re out there using those,” he said.
Brown sits on the board of the Great Lakes Water Authority. Those officials say one-third of the system’s water pumps in Detroit failed during the storm. Brown is asking GLWA to conduct an independent investigation into the cause of the flooding. Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller has also called for an independent investigation on what happened at the GLWA’s pumps last month.
Officials with the regional water authority said earlier this month one-third of the system’s water pumps at the Conners Creek and Freud facilities failed to work because of power outages during the June storm. The two facilities have a total of 12 pumps to manage wastewater and stormwater when needed, and four water pumps stopped working because of various electrical failures, officials say.
FEMA Assessment in Early Stages
Issa Mansaray, who is with FEMA, said the process is still in the early stages.
“For now we are looking at the assessment, looking at the damages. Mind you this is the preliminary part of it,” Mansaray said.
Amy Otterson, who has lived in Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood for seven years, says she and her neighbors could use some help.
“It hit our block really bad. We had, almost touching the rafters, about 7 feet of standing water and sewage and myself and most of my neighbors don’t have working furnaces, water tanks, washers, dryers, electrical panels submerged,” she said.
Otterson says she doesn’t have the means to replace appliances and make repairs.
“No, I do not have funds to get replaced furnace and water tank and washer and dryer and electrical systems.”
After gathering information and documenting the damage, FEMA assessors will work with the State of Michigan to determine whether the cost of repairs overwhelms local resources. If it does, they’ll recommend a federal disaster declaration to free up money to aid the victims.
Dale George, a liaison for the Michigan State Police - Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, said investigators are looking for issues in both homes and public infrastructure.
“When you request the presidential disaster declaration, you can request it for individual assistance or public assistance or both,” he said.
If a disaster is declared, it will still take months for affected homeowners to get financial help.
‘We Need to Come Together’
With communities still reeling from the impact of the flood, lawmakers are looking ahead to see what can be done to prepare the region to withstand future storms and the effects of climate change.
“The infrastructure in this country was built for the climate of the 20th century. It is not built for what we have today,” Duggan said.
From 2010 to 2020, the state of Michigan saw 19 extreme weather events, which cost the state up to $5 billion in damages, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said at a news conference at the Water Resource Recovery Facility in Detroit.
The floods were “a prime example of what water infrastructure means to communities. And we see the need to replace and upgrade water infrastructure to revitalize those communities for the next century,” Regan said, pointing out the facility alone would need more than $40 million for capital improvement projects within the next five years.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) said the number of affected basements in Dearborn is around 12,000 “and still counting.”
“We need to come together at the federal, state and local level and not put our head in the sand, when we’ve dried out and cleaned up our curbs, forget about this until the next rainstorm,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) said the flooding is also an environmental racism issue.
“Many of these infrastructures are in the backyard of communities of color, and they have to pay the brunt,” she said.
“I want to see movements in direct payment into frontline communities like this, within two years. That’s what we need now.”
City Picking Up Tons of Debris a Day
Detroit will start fining landlords who failed to clean their rental homes of flood damage. City inspectors will start visiting rental properties on July 20 and charge landlords $250 every day they fail their inspections. That means keeping water heaters and furnaces functioning and cleaning and sanitizing damaged areas.
Duggan said the city is picking up tons of flood-damaged items every day from neighborhood curbs left over from last month’s heavy rainfall.
“As far as the water in the basements, we aren’t halfway through it. As far as seniors and disabled getting debris out of their basement, we are not halfway through it yet,” Duggan said.
Duggan said special city crews will clean flood damage for some residents who are on the Homeowner Property Tax Assistance Program. He says Detroit is focusing on low-income homeowners who are 65 years or older, disabled or who have young children. City officials estimate about 1,000 residents in flooded areas are eligible for the emergency assistance.