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Flooding strands vehicles, soaks basements across metro Detroit, creates AT&T outages

Flooding in metro Detroit this weekend.
Courtesy of Dan Austin

Update: June 30, 2021 - 7:15 a.m.

Tens of thousands of Michiganders are without power Wednesday morning. That’s after storms Tuesday afternoon knocked more homes offline while crews were still working to repair earlier outages.

DTE Energy is reporting more than 56,000 customers without power. The outages are widespread in metro Detroit. There is also a pocket of outages in the lower part of the Thumb.

Consumers Energy is reporting nearly 9,000 customers without power. Most of those are just south of Flint.

And drivers in Detroit are still faceing road closures. A section of westbound I-94 in metro Detroit is open again for the first time in days, but the Michigan Department of Transportation says eastbound lanes from Michigan Avenue to West Grand Boulevard will remain closed for extensive repairs that could take more than a week.

The highway is below ground level in some areas and pumps couldn't keep up with the water because of power failures and other challenges.

Update: June 28, 2021 - 5:00 p.m.

Karyn Brown rifled heaps of some of her most prized possessions on Monday, mulling over stacks of dampened flyers from punk shows, warped photos from concerts, piles of records that dripped water as she lifted them up.

They’re all items she collected over decades and had to discard when the basement of her duplex in Jefferson Chalmers flooded with more than two feet of water on Saturday following heavy rainfall and a shutdown at a nearby pumping station.

“We’ve lost everything,” the 56-year-old said, adding that she hasn’t been able to file a complaint with the City of Detroit, despite waiting on hold for extended periods of time. After she was unable to reach a private company to help her clear and clean her basement, Brown turned to the East Side Mutual Aid Society.

“They came and helped me. And I’ve donated to them, but then the day came when I had to call them for help,” she said fighting back tears, “I can’t get a company in here and pay somebody but I had these young volunteers come and carry this garbage out -- my life -- carry it out to the curb.”

woman using a mop to clean the floor of a basement after a flooding
Credit Beenish Ahmed / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Karyn Brown cleans the basement of her Jefferson Chalmers home after the Detroit neighborhood flooded with more than two feet of water on Saturday following heavy rainfall and a shutdown at a nearby pumping station.

Brown said she’s frustrated by the lack of response from the city to the crisis. She lives across the street from a canal in a house she and her wife have owned for more than a decade. But Brown said it wasn’t that the water came up over the canal, but rather up through the drain in her basement, making her concerned about sanitation, especially, she said, as someone who is battling cancer.

At a press conference on Monday, Detroit Water and Sewage Department Director Gary Brown said power outages affected water pumps in the Jefferson Chalmers area for about two hours on Saturday.

“This was not a maintenance of the system or a lack of maintenance issue,” he said. “This was a global warming issue that caused the capacity issue that has to be fixed.”

As far as what caused the power outage, the director said, “It’s really too early to tell,” but the Great Lakes Water Association will hire an independent investigator.

But Karyn Brown, the Jefferson Chalmers resident, took issue with that assessment, since water didn’t breach the canal opposite her house, but came up through the drain on her basement floor. “The City can’t say the river couldn’t take more water. This isn’t the river overflowing, the pumping stations broke down.”

-- Beenish Ahmed

Update: Monday, June 28 2021 - 3:45 p.m.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer visited metro Detroit Monday afternoon to see the damage from massive flooding over the weekend. Whitmer declared a state of emergency in the region Saturday.

Several miles of I-94 remain flooded and waterlogged trash and former treasures line streets in Detroit as the city digs out from another heavy rain event.

Whitmer says this is yet another sign that the government needs to adopt better infrastructure and global warming policies.

“This is about how do we build the infrastructure that can keep us safe, that can keep our commerce and our economy going," she said, "but also recognizing we've got to decrease our carbon footprint at the same time.”

Whitmer urges residents affected by the flooding to document the damage and keep their receipts. Thousands of families should qualify for federal assistance for repairs.


Update: Monday, June 28 2021 - 7:15 a.m.

Flooding continues to impact metro Detroit Monday morning.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is reporting a number of closures and flooded freeway ramps mainly along I-94.

MDOT says in a press release I-94 is expected to remain closed during the morning rush hour because of flooding in Detroit and Dearborn between Greenfield Road and I-75.

"MDOT crews and our county partners have been working around the clock to address the large volumes of rain received over a brief time span on Thursday and Friday which caused flooding and numerous power outages in metro Detroit. The lack of power affected dozens of freeway pump houses which rely on power to pump water off the freeways. Temporary generators were brought into a number of locations which allowed the reopening of all other freeways except for I-94 in Detroit and Dearborn between Greenfield Road and I-75. Those other freeways, such as I-96, M-10, and I-75 can be used as detour routes during the I-94 closure."

In Dearborn, the flooding and damage is widespread.

In an interview with Michigan Radio’s Morning Edition on Monday, Dearborn Fire Chief Joseph Murray said the city had received more than 700 calls of flooded homes, but officials suspect the number is much higher.

Murray says the city distributed 3,000 pounds of dry ice to help people who’ve lost power save some of their groceries. He says the city is urging people to get water-logged furniture and other items out of their houses and onto the curb as soon as possible.

“We have [Department of Public Works] crews right now, every day this week going out, trying to pick up items, as well as working with our trash contractor,” Murray said. “If we don't pick it up immediately that day, just be patient. We're coming.”

Murray says it’s not just single-family homes that have been affected.

“We have two senior apartment towers that are out of power and we are working with some local restaurants and vendors to provide all those seniors with hot meals and lunches for today, as well as water and drinks,” he said. “[We’re] doing our best to assist the citizens. But it's been very challenging.”

You can hear the full interview near the top of this page.

-- Doug Tribou and Lauren Talley

Update: Saturday, June 26 2021 - 4:10 p.m.

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department director Gary Brown says the intensity of the storms exceeded the amount of water that pumping stations and combined sewer overflow facilities are designed to handle.

“With this much rain, there’s nowhere for the water to go other than flooding streets and basements,” he says.

Brown says DWSD and the Great Lakes Water Authority will investigate an apparent failure at the Conner Creek pumping station on Detroit’s east side.

More rain is forecast in metro Detroit Saturday tonight, and throughout the week.

Update: Saturday, June 26 2021 - 2:15 p.m.

Governor Gretchen Whitmerdeclared a state of emergency on Saturday in Wayne County to help address threats to public health and safety related to heavy rainfall. The rain resulted in widespread flooding, power outages, flooded roadways, stranded motorists, flooding of homes, and displaced residents. 

The National Weather Service forecasts heavy rain and strong winds over the weekend across southern Michigan. Additional counties may be added as needed and conditions change. 

“We are continuing to work closely with emergency response coordinators and local leaders across the state to address widespread flooding,” said Whitmer. “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. We’ve overcome tremendous challenges this year because Michiganders are a tough people who know that we are all in this together.”

Original post: Saturday, June 26 - 9:56 a.m.

Many metro Detroiters woke up – some of them in the middle of the night – to flooding in their yards, streets, and basements.

Freeways and some surface streets are impassable, and abandoned vehicles litter many roadways. Michigan State Police says its “Marine Services Team is also checking submerged vehicles to make sure they are empty. If you abandoned your vehicle on the freeway contact your state police post to find out where it was towed.” MSP warns against driving into flooded areas.

DTE reports more than 45,000 customers without power as of 11 a.m. Saturday. Report an outage or see the outage map here.

Pictures shared on social media show flooding from Canton, west of Detroit, to the Grosse Pointes east of the city. Grosse Pointe Police sent a notice to residents saying the Great Lakes Water Authority Connor Creek pump station failed around 1 a.m., but is now back online.

The National Weather Service says rain will continue Saturday, and has issued a flood watch through 4 a.m. Sunday.

AT&T customers across Southeast Michigan are reporting network problems with their cell phone and internet connectivity. AT&T's outage map online indicates major network problems in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs.

A spokesperson for AT&T says flooding after recent heavy rainfall in the Detroit is affecting service.The company has teams are on site and is working to restore service.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), in coordination with the City of of Detroit Department of Public Works, General Services Department and others, is actively assessing the storm's impacts.

DWSD offers these tips to the public:

  • Avoid driving through standing water.
  • Clear debris from above and around the catch basins (storm drains) near your property; offer to help nearby senior citizens do the same (watch this video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nnvw-ewt1kk
  • Look at your downspouts and safely remove debris from the gutters and at the point where the water exit each downspout.

  • Check your basement drain to make sure it's not clogged so any water that enters the basement can drain properly.
  • Stay clear of standing water in your basement if the area includes electrical appliances, outlets, and a fuse box.

Detroit residents who experience flooding can file a damage claim with the city. Here’s how to do that.

This post has been updated to reflect new DTE outage numbers.

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Sarah Hulett is Michigan Public's Director of Amplify & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.
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.
Beenish Ahmed is Michigan Public's Criminal Justice reporter. Since 2016, she has been a reporter for WNYC Public Radio in New York and also a freelance journalist. Her stories have appeared on NPR, as well as in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, VICE and The Daily Beast.
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