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Who Is Going To Pay To Clean Up Metro Detroit Flood Damage?

By Tresa Baldas, Christina Hall and Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 15--As metro Detroit recovers from this week's historic flood and assessors start tallying the damage, one key question keeps popping up in neighborhoods and city halls: Who is going to pay to clean up the mess?

Homeowners want to know. So do business owners and local officials, who are scrambling to figure out how much total damage was done. So far, the cities hit by flooding have determined that 33% to 50% of homes were damaged. That's more than 34,000 structures.

But new reports of flood damage keep coming in -- the latest involving a half-dozen basements collapsing in Warren, Center Line and Clinton Township after floodwaters receded. And streets and highways are still buckling.

Whether federal aid becomes available remains uncertain.

But if Warren is any indication, the price is going to be astronomical, and government aid will be vital.

"If the federal government can help flood-damaged communities in various countries in the world," Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said Thursday, "I think they can help flood damage in the city of Warren and southeast Michigan. Like someone said to me, this was a biblical storm with biblical cost."

-- Insurance: Many flooded basements won't be covered

Fouts said Monday's heavy rains damaged 18,047 structures in Warren worth $1.2 billion -- not including damage at the police department, district court, community center and the 10 police cars destroyed. Plus, 1,000 abandoned vehicles on Warren roadways had to be towed.

"It's going to be a lot of money," Fouts said of the total flood damage cost, stressing the city and homeowners need federal assistance. "This was a cataclysmic, difficult type of rain."

Like Fouts, Dearborn residents also are pleading for federal aid as their city was among the hardest-hit, getting walloped with 6 inches of rain Monday. Roughly 40% of Dearborn's homes were damaged by the floods, which also shut down 75% of the city's roads.

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"There are lots of questions," said Dearborn attorney Tarek Baydoun, who has met with homeowners whose basements were flooded. "The people are wondering what took the government so long to provide information to them, and who, if anyone, will help them as they deal with this devastation."

On Thursday, municipalities started adding up the numbers of houses that were damaged by flooding. The numbers are startling.

-- Susan Tompor: Tips on auto insurance, flooding, storm damage

In Ferndale, 50% of the city's homes were flooded. Huntington Woods saw 75% of its homes damaged by heavy rains. In Eastpointe, as of Thursday, 500 homeowners had reported flooding due to sewer backups or storm water. Dearborn Heights received 400 such complaints; Taylor got 60 flood reports; and St. Clair Shores received 280.

Add to that, municipal buildings were damaged as well, including the Dearborn City Hall, and more than 1,000 vehicles had to be towed.

State officials stressed they are working as quickly as possible to help metro Detroit's flood victims. First, they said, local communities need to gather damage estimates and put them into a state database. After the numbers are confirmed, a preliminary damage assessment gets presented to the governor.

"If there is significant damage, the governor will request a presidential disaster declaration," said Ron Leix, spokesman for the Michigan State Police Emergency Operations Center.

The request will include a detailed list of damage in the region. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will look at that request and make a recommendation to the president, who will say yes or no to public aid.

"But nothing is guaranteed," Leix cautioned.

Leix did not give a time line, but said all the damage estimates from the communities should be in in the next few days.

"We're working as quickly and efficiently as possible to make sure people get what they need," Leix said.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly Jr., meanwhile, has declared an emergency, a move that could allow the city to get state and federal resources. Floods have been a sore spot for Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, which have been sued by homeowners who say the city failed to protect their homes from floods.

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But O'Reilly said that the storm was a once-in-lifetime event, so it would be unfair to blame the city for the problems.

"The system was operating the best it could, but the volume overwhelmed it," said O'Reilly, cautioning that many might not get assistance because of the uniqueness of the storm.

On Wednesday, after witnessing the damage via helicopter, Gov. Rick Snyder designated Macomb, Wayne and Oakland counties a disaster area. The designation paves the way for possible federal aid.

In the wake of Snyder's designation, the Detroit Police Department on Thursday announced that the city's Department of Homeland Security is going to conduct a damage assessment over the next several days. It's part of a first step in determining whether federal funding will be available to victims.

"At this time, there is no indication that federal funding will be made available to assist with flood damage to basements," the police department said in a statement. "Once the assessment is complete, the state will review the information to determine whether Michigan and the Detroit area qualify for federal aid."

If the region does qualify for aid, the statement said, homeowners will be notified about how to apply for help.

Meanwhile, residents across the region spent much of Thursday cleaning and airing out their homes, lugging their drenched belongings to curbs and seeking help with paying for the damage.

At Lowe's Home Improvement in Madison Heights, people lined up for mops, brooms, dehumidifiers, fans and more on Thursday.

"We've been able to get emergency shipments from our distribution center," manager Laurie Allen said. "We're keeping up with what the customers demand."

Downriver communities didn't get hit as bad as other cities, though flooding remains a problem in some areas.

In Taylor, more than 60 basements were flooded and about 20 drivers had to be rescued, according to Taylor official Karl Ziomek. Parts of Taylor remained flooded Thursday, such as the Monroe Street underpass at I-94 south of Van Born, which the city hoped to empty out by day's end. The Eureka Road underpass at I-75 also remained flooded.

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Also in Taylor, an investigation into a possible oil spill is under way over concerns about oil film on the parking lot at Buckeye Terminal, behind Atlas Oil on Ecorse Road. Officials told the city that no oil left the property, and its has reopened.

In Sterling Heights, the flood is believed to have caused a break in a sanitary sewer line north of 15 Mile and east of Schoenherr, just west of the Red Run Drain. It has created a sinkhole about 20 feet wide, according to a post on the city's Facebook page.

Steve Guitar, community relations director for Sterling Heights, said crews are working on repairing the line. He said he may have damage estimates by today.

Eastpointe, meanwhile, took to Facebook to show how costly the flooding has been. It stated, for example:

-- The estimated cost for removing water-damaged items from the curb is $50,000.

-- Roughly 100 sewer leads from homes to sanitary mains were damaged at an estimated repair cost of $3,000 to $4,000 per home.

-- A section of Toepfer under construction west of Gratiot sustained $200,000 in damage.

-- Five road construction projects have been suspended because of storm-related damage at a cost of $1 million; and overtime for city workers this week was $20,000.

In Macomb County, municipalities have until this afternoon to send preliminary damage information to the county. The information will get forwarded to the state, and then on to the federal government for consideration for federal aid.

"The most important thing for people to do is to report damage," said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

Added Vicki Wolber, the county's emergency management and communications director: "No damage is too small."

Staff writers Gina Damron, Robert Allen and Kathleen Gray contributed to this report.

___

(c)2014 the Detroit Free Press

Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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