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Heavy rains flood metro Detroit freeways, streets; lead to closures

Credit Dan Austin
Flooding in Detroit's Aviation Subdivision on Friday afternoon.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for Wayne County as heavy rains moved across the region Friday. NWS reports 1 to 2 inches of rain has already fallen in southern portions of Oakland and Macomb counties.

Westbound I-94 closed to traffic just after 12:30 p.m. at I-75 due to flooding; and Eastbound I-94 closed to traffic just after 12:45 p.m. The I-96 East Ramp to I-94 East is also closed.

There are also a number of partially flooded roadways across the region where drivers should proceed with

Credit Dan Austin
Flooding in Detroit's Aviation Subdivision on Friday afternoon.

caution, according the Michigan Department of Transportation. You can view an up-to-date list of partial and full closures from MDOT here.

According to the National Weather Service:

“Additional rainfall amounts up to 2 inches are expected in the warned area today. Additional road closures are likely for parts of Wayne County.”

This comes just two weeks after heavy rainfall and storms caused severe flooding in Southeast Michigan, leading to a presidential declaration of disaster from President Joe Biden. Thousands of homes and businesses suffered damages from the flood, and many are still recovering, only to see more water in their basements today.

'We are doing it on our own'

Donna Lynn Ramsey is one such resident who lives in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood of Detroit. She had three and a half feet of water in her basement two weeks ago. Today, she says there was water in her basement again.

"It’s rainy. And in the basement there's water again. The news said maybe flooding, but I’m not prepared for it, I don’t want it, and I can’t handle… I don’t know how much I can handle,” she said.

In addition to her basement flooding, Ramsey says her roof has been leaking since June 26. She lives on Social Security, and doesn’t have the money to fix it. In addition, Ramsey lives with her adult daughter, who had many of her possessions ruined by the flood waters. Neither of them are able to get the items up the stairs and out of their basement.

“I’m not able to do this, and neither is she. She just had back surgery two years ago, and she’s not able to carry stuff up and I’m not able to do it. And we get somebody here and there, every chance we get, to grab something and bring it up, but my hands are tied,” she said.

Karyn Brown also lives in Jefferson Chalmers, and had three feet of water in her basement two weeks ago. Today, she decided that she would try and do laundry for the first time since June 26.

“I was like, I'm going to risk it, I've got stuff sorted and I started it. So I was down there and I was looking at the water coming up in the drain and saying, no, no, no, no, no!”

Brown put herself on a waitlist with the city to get debris hauled out of her basement on June 27. She says workers form the city were finally able to come today to help her haul some old wood out of the basement, but at that point, she and her wife had already done much of the heavy lifting on their own. Brown says they’re not even really sure if the steps they’re taking now are the correct ones.

“We really don't even know, are we cleaning this properly? Is this are we waterproofing properly? What should we be doing? I want somebody from the city to come here and help me, or a professional restoration company, come in and say, 'Okay,' because we're doing it on our own.”

'Back to square one'

Sharon Sklar lives in the Cornerstone Village neighborhood of Detroit, which is northeast of Jefferson Chalmers. On the night of June 25, she fell asleep on the couch in her basement’s family room. She woke up in the middle of the night to find three feet of water in her basement.

“The water was so much that everything just fell over. It just took everything, even my washer and dryer, even my deep freezer full of meat was floating in the water. Everything was floating, the refrigerator was floating, everything was floating!”

She says she was able to get things sanitized and the debris thrown out, but the heavy rain today threw her for a loop. Sklar says she went down after lunch to find five inches of water already in her basement. They have a sump pump, she says, but the water was coming in too quick and heavy for the sump pump to be effective.

"We also have a backup on our sump pump. So you unplug the electric sump pump and the back up just keeps shooting the water out. So I had that going, and I had a hand-held pump in the water. Then I called [my husband] home from work. So we were getting the water lower, you know, sucking it out… and then it started coming in again. So we're just back to square one,” she said, recounting her frustration. 

Sklar says her basement has flooded four times since 2010.

“Well, it prepared me, but it sure didn’t prepare me to have it flooded twice in three weeks. After what happened today… I’m not a crier, I’m a doer, but I’ll tell you one thing, I really did want to cry.”

M.L. Elrick lives in the East English Village neighborhood of Detroit, near Sklar in Cornerstone Village. He says he watched in horror this morning as heavy rain pooled around the foundation of his home. This afternoon, he says water began to seep into his basement again, a mere two weeks after three feet of water flooded his basement. 

"I hope that we don't have a repeat of what happened two weeks ago because we're still dealing with the aftermath. I just did 10 loads of laundry yesterday that didn't completely dry and was putting it on a drying line and now it's getting wet again. So it just feels like this isn't weather, it's torture,” he said. 

Elrick says he’s frustrated by what he feels is an inadequate response from the city. Detroit had what was then called “500-year-floods” in 2014, and has experienced other major flooding events in the years since. Elrick says clearly the city needs better responses if he and his neighbors are dealing with flood events this frequently. 

"Do we just give up on using our basements? Are we supposed to concede to the elements that a big part of our homes are unusable? That's just that's outrageous. I mean, we we've removed so many things from our basement. We still need to cut the drywall away. We still need to sanitize our basement. And it almost feels like that's pointless. Why would we take all those mitigation steps if it's just going to fill with water again?” he asked.

Karyn Brown agrees. She’s lived in Detroit her entire life, and she and her wife have lived in their current home in Jefferson Chalmers for 12 years. Now, she says they’re seriously questioning their future, and wondering whether they’ll ever be able to use their basement again.

“We bought flooring yesterday to put in. Now it's questioning everything that we thought we were going to be able to do, you know, because this is going to be an ongoing problem,” she says. “You know, this is Michigan. People use their basements. Can't Detroit have nice things? Aren't we allowed in the city of Detroit to have nice things?"

Paulette is a digital media reporter and producer for Michigan Public. She started as a newsroom intern at the station in 2014 and has taken on various roles in that time, including filling in as an on-air host.
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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