Sept. 01--The costs are mounting at the typical waterlogged house in metro Detroit -- new furnace, hot-water heater, washer, dryer, furniture, elaborate artwork, piles of electronics, plus construction costs that can run into tens of thousands of dollars.
Homeowners recited losses like those to teams of inspectors last week as metro Detroit made its case for federal aid.
"We're estimating $100,000 in damages," said Patricia Bremer, 41, of Royal Oak, whose husband is a professional rock musician and lost a new sound studio.
-- Susan Tompor: Hard lessons about flood insurance policies
"We had just finished renovating down there. We had a full bathroom, all-new laundry room, my daughter's bedroom, a living area with a flat screen and a gym with treadmill and weights and all that," she said. "Everything got destroyed."
And like everyone else on their block near 11 Mile and I-75 who parks in the street, the Bremers lost a car.
"People really need help -- it's our turn," said Deirdre Alvey, 32, of Center Line, as she and relatives resumed repairing a relative's house in Warren just after speaking with inspectors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Metro Detroit's record-breaking deluge of Aug. 11 has long since dried up. But damage left by sewage-laced water has victims hoping for checks in the mail and other forms of aid from Washington, D.C.
Yet, as about 20 FEMA inspectors and support staff finished their tours Friday of damage in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, some local officials are sounding notes of caution. Many metro Detroiters might have unrealistic expectations, said Theodore Quisenberry, former police chief of Royal Oak, now manager of Oakland County Homeland Security.
"Early on in this event, there were some elected officials that made statements that could easily be interpreted to mean that there's money coming your way for this," Quisenberry said.
Those assessing southeast Michigan must check off a long list of conditions just to persuade Gov. Rick Snyder that the region merits a federal disaster request, and then Snyder's application must pass muster with FEMA's advisers to President Barack Obama before financial assistance could flow to victims, he said.
"There's still the possibility that we're not going to get there" to the governor's approval or a presidential declaration, said Quisenberry, who has been working 12- to 14-hour days since the flood.
"Certainly, we've had people hit very hard (and) it's never a good thing to compare losses -- who's hurting the most?
"But we saw buildings totally collapse in California last week, with that earthquake. And go back a few years ago to Hurricane Katrina. Clearly, you can see losses more dramatic in situations like those than what we've had here," Quisenberry said.
FEMA spokeswoman Sandy Jasmund, in metro Detroit last week with other officials from the agency, declined to say whether she thought the region would qualify for federal aid. But she warned against assuming it would. And the decision could take a few weeks or several months, she said.
"When we go out into any area that's had a disaster, it sometimes causes expectations that the federal government may come in" with financial aid to individuals, Jasmund said.
The next step now is for the disaster inspectors, including state and county officials as well as those from FEMA, to compile reports they will submit to Snyder, Jasmund said.
Snyder has urged metro Detroiters with damage to report it quickly to their city, village or township hall because "this information is essential for the state to be able to request relief from the federal government."
But little or even none of that relief might go to individual homeowners and renters. It might be limited to county road commissions, the Michigan Department of Transportation, and city governments that have suffered losses such as damage to buildings and totaled police cars, Huntington Woods Mayor Ron Gillham said.
"We really need to startmanaging people's expectations," said Gillham, who had 2 feet of water in his basement and estimated his own losses at upward of $25,000.
"My understanding is that for individuals to be compensated, they pretty much have to be driven from their homes," he said.
After studying FEMA's criteria for granting aid, Gillham said he concluded: "FEMA is very careful about where they give the money."
Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner said Thursday that Congress should give a tax break to those suffering rain-caused financial losses in metro Detroit.
"Even if the federal government makes a disaster declaration, which is no guarantee, many families will still not benefit in any way from this action," Meisner said.
But a temporary adjustment to the income-tax rules, providing an easier rule to qualify for deducting casualty losses, would provide vital financial relief, he said.
Current law limits the deduction for losses from disasters like this month's heavy rains to the amount of the loss minus 10% of a family's adjusted gross income -- a high bar to reach, he said.
"The great unanticipated costs of water removal, mold remediation, removal of carpets and walls, appliance replacement -- these costs are very difficult to bear for families that were not insured," Meisner said in a letter he sent last week to members of Congress.
But income tax relief, while welcome, wouldn't be the same as a check in the mail soon, said Gretchen Domino, 53, of Warren.
Domino has lived in a borrowed recreation vehicle parked on her driveway since the storm flooded her basement with sewage and cracked the basement foundation.
Her backyard has been excavated for repairs, leaving dirt piled 10 feet high, so that masons could repair the foundation.
"I have no idea how I'm going to pay for this. And I have no choice but to stay here," Domino said.
Contact Bill Laitner: [email protected] or 313-223-4485
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