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Cause of southwest Detroit "ground shift" still unknown; some call for evacuation plan

The site of the ground shift near Fort and Dearborn streets.
Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition
The site of the ground shift near Fort and Dearborn streets.

Residents living near what officials call a “ground upheaval” in southwest Detroit say they want to know what’s going on—and some want to be evacuated.

Nearly a week after something happened underground that caused the roadway near Fort and Dearborn streets to swell and then buckle, officials are still puzzled about the cause. The incident damaged a nearby building so badly it had to be demolished.

DTE Energy is conducting an ongoing investigation, and has ruled out a natural gas explosion. Residents had complained of a natural gas odor for weeks.

But now, some residents and elected leaders fear that whatever caused the upheaval is still lingering underground. They’re asking the city for a voluntary evacuation plan, and for more and better information about the situation.

“Given that there is still not clear resolution and that the ground has continued to be unstable with unknown potential for further problems, it is important to take the extra caution to evacuate residents, or offer evacuation at minimum, to reduce stress and fear, and allow families to have access to water and utilities needed for daily life,” Pastor Kevin Casillas, head of the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, wrote to city leaders on Friday. “There are still families who were relocated to a hotel and after being away for three days, they returned home and still do not have water or gas.”

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) said city leaders need to be more proactive on behalf of affected residents in the heavily-industrial community.

“The fact the ground is shaking alone should sound the alarms,” Tlaib said. “What is the evacuation plan? The mayor needs to answer our questions.”

The city announced this week that whatever is causing the upheaval continues to put pressure on DTE’s natural gas infrastructure. The utility preemptively shut down a gas main on Wednesday, and finished re-routing the pipeline on Saturday. The city said that “no additional significant ground movement” has been detected, and ground excavation to determine the cause of shift should begin early next week.

Dianna Pierce lives near the site. She said she’s received little information from the city or DTE, and is mostly getting updates from neighbors and Facebook. She’s not sure she wants to be evacuated, but the situation is making her nervous.

“Hopefully we know in advance if that thing’s going to blow or not, or what actually happened,” Pierce said. “We want answers.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.