Historic rains strand hundreds of cars, flood thousands of homes

WARREN, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) -- As the skies around metro Detroit started to darken yet again today and thunder started rumbling, signaling another possible onslaught of rain, metro Detroiters are still struggling to cope with the aftermath of historic rains that flooded thousands of basements and left hundreds of cars stranded across area freeways on Monday.

Commuters are being urged to stay off the roads, with standing water in spots on virtually every area interstate. Michigan State Police divers searched for submerged vehicles this morning on I-696 near Dequindre and other flooded viaducts. On Stephenson Highway near I-696, heavy rains washed a wall of mud onto a southbound I-75 exit ramp, swamping a dump truck and a car.

"We've got a lot going on. It's not just the water on the roads. We can't clean up the roads, we've got to get the cars off the roads," said Michigan Department of Transportation spokeswoman Diane Cross said.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is planning to visit the Detroit area Tuesday to survey the damage. According to FEMA Chicago, at this time, there have been no requests for federal assistance, but the agency has sent a liaison to the state's emergency response center to help with technical issues.

Meanwhile, more rain is expected, with scattered showers in the forecast, according to National Weather Service in White Lake Township.

Monday was the second-heaviest single day rainfall in Michigan history, with 4.57 inches recorded at Detroit Metro Airport, said Dan Thompson of the White Lake Township office of the National Weather Service. The record is 4.74 on July 31, 1925.

"We will see scattered showers throughout the morning and afternoon today," he said, "but it won't be anything near yesterday's totals. Expect a few pop-up showers over the morning hours and into the afternoon."

No potentially severe weather is expected, he said. The high temperature will be in the mid-70s, with tonight's low in the upper 50s.

Power problems
In addition to flooded basements, some area residents are dealing with power outages. DTE Energy reports about 16,000 customers without power as of noon in its service area, down from about 23,000 Monday night.

A total of 32,000 customers lost power during the course of the storm and its aftermath, Donerson said.

The outages are scattered, but there are pockets in Detroit, Dearborn, Southgate, Farmington and Northville, according to Erica Donerson, a DTE Energy spokeswoman.

It's unclear when those customers would have their power restored.

"Crews are having challenges traveling to areas to make repairs," Donerson said.

Consumers Energy spokeswoman Debra Dodd said the company had no major natural gas interruptions because of the storms and flooding, noting that DTE provides most electric service in the Detroit area.

Consumers Energy issued a news release today advising home and business owners with appliances affected by the storms, such as furnaces, clothes dryers and hot water heaters, to have them inspected by a qualified contractor before attempting to restart or use them.

The company also noted that the storms would have some affect on the company's routine business.

"Natural gas customers living in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties who have non-essential natural gas service requests, such as turn-ons for new homes, etc. are asked to wait 24 hours until Wed., Aug. 13 to schedule this type of work so emergency calls associated with the flooding can be addressed," the release said

Requests to shut off gas to homes and businesses should be made to 800-477-5050, the company said.

It was not immediately clear how many Consumers customers had experienced outages as a result of the storms.

Communities struggle to provide aide
In Macomb County, the city of Warren was among the hardest hit areas. Flood waters even swamped the Warren Police Department, with 3 feet of water in its basement.

Warren Police Deputy Commissioner Louis Galasso said the basement houses the property and evidence room, and the utility room and boiler system. The water has even submerged two undercover police cars and a scout car as well as the department's main elevator car, gun range and arsenal.

"Once the ammunition's wet, it certainly can't be provided to the officers," Galasso said. "We never lost communication for emergency phone calls or dispatch, never lost power ... but the generator and backup generator are completely submerged."

In a Lowe's parking lot where 400 to 500 people were stranded late Monday, debris, including bundles of firewood, was strewn about like leaves on an autumn day and the pavement was streaked with mud. At a nearby gas station, an ice cooler lay on its side, knocked over apparently, by rushing water.

Vicki Wolber, director of Emergency Management and Communications for Macomb County, said in addition to Warren, Sterling Heights and pockets of Macomb and Clinton townships appeared to be worst hit, with flooded basements and road closures.

"The one issue that makes this different (from other storms) is having the major freeways closed. That hasn't happened in a long time. To still have them flooded the next morning and have some of the problems we have is different," she said. "We're not at a point of making any emergency declarations at this point but we'll see how the day goes."?

Other communities hit hard by flooded basements included Dearborn, Taylor, Royal Oak, Berkley, Huntington Woods and Detroit.

The Clinton River near Clinton Township is near flood stage and was expected to crest at noon, Township Supervisor Bob Cannon said.

He said it could get worse before it gets better.

"Every single barricade we own is out," Cannon said.

Abandoned cars and water-soaked couches
Water soaked couches, electronics, and pictures of family memories sit ruined in basement of homes. Items, like carpet, furniture and blankets are out on curbs. And abandoned cars— that couldn't make it through flooded streets Monday— remain in the roads today as the damage caused by water Monday becomes clearer.

Debra Furmaniak, 29, and her husband Brian Furmaniak, 31, returned to their Royal Oak home on North Vermont, near I-75 and 11 Mile, around 8 p.m. Monday. The water was already up to the second step in their finished basement.

"We stared down there for a second like 'what do we do? '" said Debra Furmaniak.

Water had to be pumped out — like many others in the area, and the couple spent the morning ripping out carpet and trying to salvage what has not been destroyed.

Figuring out how to proceed is complicated because they haven't heard back from a restoration company and insurance companies are inundated with calls from people in similar situations.

"All this paneling has to come out," Brian Furmaniak said pointing to the wall by the pool table.

He knows insurance won't cover it all and estimates they are in the hole at least $10,000.

Neighbors helping neighbors
Ed Pough never thought he'd use his 16-foot fishing boat on his Clinton Township street.

But he's used it twice now — once today and once Monday night — to rescue or help neighbors stranded by flood waters near his home, which luckily didn't flood in Monday's record rain. Today, he and neighbor Gary Cyrus helped launch the boat on Millar near Utica to help Joann Longo get to her father, who was in his house, which was flooded.

"It's sad. It's terrible," Cyrus, 42, said as a blue hosed snaked out of his rental house, pumping water to a drain over a nearby wall.

Another neighbor drove a pickup truck through the flood waters, down about 2 feet from last night, but which still claim two vehicles in the middle of the road. Water marks indicate how how the water was Monday night into today.

Meanwhile, Tim Smith, 40, of New York and Patti Backos, 50, of Warren returned to Buddy's Pizza on Van Dyke in Warren today to retrieve the vehicles they were forced to abandon Monday night.

"We were dining here and the waters started to rise. It became clear we were trapped here," said Smith, who was in town on a visit.

Patrons stood on tables as they waited to be rescued with water up to the seat cushions before Smith, Backos and others were ferried to the nearby Lowe's parking lot to wait. Smith and Backos eventually walked to Mound and 13 Mile where they were picked up by family.

At one point a fire truck became stranded getting from Lowe's to Buddy's, which is across the street, they said. Staff members at Buddy's were working to clean and dry out the inside of the restaurant and help their returning customers restart their vehicles. It's unclear when the restaurant will reopen.

Emergency situations
The storm contributed to at least one death when a 31-year-old woman in Warren suffered a cardiac arrest Monday evening after her car became stranded amid the flooding, officials said.

"We are absolutely overwhelmed," said Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, who declared a state of emergency today. "We've got police, fire, sanitation, DPW, waste treatment — anybody who wants to work overtime, can. We're working round the clock. This is probably a 200-year rain. I've never seen anything like this."

In Troy, firefighters rescued people in vehicles in the 14 Mile, Dequindre, Maple, John R, Stephenson, Crooks and Wattles road areas. Firefighters responded to 32 flood-related incidents in the city between 7:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

"At one point, Alliance Mobile Health, the city's EMS provider, had to be taken to a residence for a medical emergency by hitching a ride on a fire engine to get through flooded streets," according to a Troy Fire Department press release.

Officials have also warned residents about allowing their children to play in the flood waters.

The City of Grosse Pointe Public Safety Department is warning residents who have manhole covers in their backyards to check that the covers are still in place before letting pets or children outside.

'Getting business today is not an issue'
Brett Ekstrom, Project Superintendent with Diamond Recovery Property Restoration, stopped by one house and ended up taking down names for home after home on Vinsetta Boulevard, west of North Main in Royal Oak.

"I've never seen anything like this, ever," he said.

Business has been "non-stop" he said, adding he's going from "house to house to house to house" across metro Detroit. Ekstrom said the sad thing is many people don't have insurance that covers this type of event. As he talked to a Free Press reporter, a car pulled up asking for his card and his help.

"Getting business today is not an issue," Ekstrom said.

Cleanup is expected to be going all week and recovery teams are expected to come in from other states to help. One of the homes on the block Ekstrom stopped at had five feet of water in the basement, described by the homeowner as brown-blackish in color.

"It's just a mess," said Elke Schroeter, 73, who has lived in her home on Vinsetta since 1978.

Water came over the street and yard, and covered the front porch but didn't make it through the front door, she said. Adding to the flooding, a manhole cover came off and water spewed several feet high Monday evening.

"It was like a geyser," she said.

Detroit Zoo closes from flooding
Flooding was so bad that it even closed the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak.

On its Facebook page, the zoo said flooding caused damage to facilities and equipment.

"All animals are secure and there are no concerns with animal welfare at this time," according to the Facebook post. The post also says staff members are evaluating the park and beginning to clean up and make repairs.

"In order to affect the necessary repairs, several buildings will need to be closed to the public, thus full closure of the Zoo on Tuesday will most efficiently expedite this process. It is expected to reopen with regular business hours on Wednesday, August 13," according to the post.

Dream Cruise event cancelled
The flooding also impacted the kick-off medial gathering for the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Dream Cruise spokesman Louie Katsaros said board members of the nonprofit Woodward Dream Cruise Inc. operating board are excited about the good weather forecast for Saturday, but sorry to have cancelled today's traditional kick-off media gathering and luncheon at Channel 7 headquarters in Southfield.

Because freeways and 10 Mile Road in Southfield were closed, mayors and other city officials "needed to stay in their cities to deal with storm issues," and the classic-car collectors who were signed up to show off their vehicles at the event were concerned about the threat of more rain.

Detroit Free Press staff writers Eric D. Lawrence, Gina Damron, Elisha Anderson, Keith Matheny, John Wisely, Todd Spangler pangler, Ann Zaniewski, Christie Innes, Marlon A. Walker, Niraj Warikoo, Paul Egan, Kathy Gray, Bill Laitner and Chris Hall contributed to this report


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