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Still lots of debris to be picked up in metro Detroit in the wake of flooding

Flooding in metro Detroit this weekend.
Courtesy of Dan Austin

Metro Detroit is still recovering from severe storms which brought historic levels of flooding to the area. The damage from the flooding extended to freeways, roads, and homes—including flooded basements and tons of damaged property.

Affected cities have asked residents to pile unsalvageable debris from the storm onto the curb. In many places around the region, it's still sitting there.

Joe Munem is the director of government affairs and public relations for GFL Environmental Michigan, a Toronto-based waste management company that serves much of the metro Detroit region.

He says some of the areas GFL is focusing on for cleanup include Detroit, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Garden City, Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Park, Harper Woods, and Inkster.

"We're seeing just about everything you can imagine that you would find in someone's basement, because the basement flooding has been extensive, some areas far more than others. But this goes from furniture and finished basements to just boxes that people may have been storing down in their basements. But a lot of this involves sewage. So it all has to go if you can't disinfect it," Munem said.

Munem says GFL has been working closely with local departments of public works to ensure the cleanup gets done. He says over the past week, they've focused mostly on maintaining regular trash pickup schedules.

"One reason that we’re going out in force over the weekend is to make sure that we didn’t get too far behind on the regular trash that still accumulates, flood or no flood, during the week. So that we could focus our efforts on the bulk material on the weekend," he says.

Those efforts this weekend include 330 trucks going out around the region on Saturday and another 130 going out on Sunday.

Jeremy O'Brien is the director of research for the Solid Waste Association of North America. He says there's a nationwide shortage of sanitation workers preceding the pandemic.

"In most parts of the country, you know, they're having problems picking up a regular schedule of waste. So now, you've added a whole other layer of problems. And, you know, the severity of the problem depends on this particular storm and, you know, how much waste the people are setting out, and also the storm debris. So it's a really tough thing. So you started with a problem of driver shortage, and now that's obviously significantly exacerbated by the storm," O'Brien said.

Munem says many of the workers going out this weekend are volunteering. He says it will take more efforts than just this one holiday weekend to get all of the flood-related debris cleaned up, and asks residents to have patience with waste management workers as they attempt to collect bulk materials.

"It certainly will continue into the next week. The damage is extensive, as evidenced by Governor Whitmer’s disaster declaration. There’s no way we’re going to finish it this weekend, but we think that we’re going to make a good dent," he said.

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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