ROYAL OAK/CLAWSON — There really was nothing Matt Cahaney could do but watch the rain fall hard for hours on end.
As it overwhelmed the stormwater system, Matt, along with his wife, Cathy, tried to suck up the water rising in their basement — where their 21-year-old son, Alec, sleeps — using a vacuum.
But it couldn’t keep up. Like so many on Aug. 11, they could only wait for the rain to stop and assess the damage it had done to their home once it was done.
“I couldn’t believe that after such a short period of time, the basement was already flooded,” Matt said. “Everything was ruined. Everything was gone.”
The cleanup effort would have been too much for Matt to endure. The 65-year-old Vietnam War veteran just had heart surgery and has been suffering from other ailments. The couple also didn’t have the money to spend on a cleanup crew. So until New City Presbyterian Pastor Ryan McVicar organized a group of volunteers and they assembled at the Cahaneys’ Farnum Avenue home Aug. 15, the Cahaneys only had been able to chip away at the water and sewage damage to their basement.
“It’s a heartwarming feeling,” Matt said while standing on his porch with his son’s dog, Max, whose fur was trimmed short after playing in the basement’s stagnant water. “It’s a community spirit, which I believe is necessary in a community, and we’ve definitely got it in Royal Oak.”
The Cahaney household was the approximately 20th home that McVicar and his volunteers had assisted in cleaning and removing damaged goods.
The idea to organize volunteers came to McVicar the night of the flood, when stories began coming in of people with little to lose losing so much.
So he spread word through his congregation and social media that he needed help finding homeowners who needed assistance cleaning up the mess left behind by the storm. Then he assembled an army of volunteers made up of his congregation, their children and their friends.
“We discovered Monday night people in our congregation that needed help,” McVicar said. “Then it grew to us trying to be a resource for the entire community.”
Since Aug. 12, they’ve been jumping from one Royal Oak home to the next.
By Aug. 15, McVicar had assembled such a large crew of volunteers that he was able to split them to tackle two homes simultaneously.
Alec Cahaney, who has volunteered his own time in the aftermath of various natural disasters throughout the country, said he didn’t think anything like what he had seen in the aftermaths of hurricanes in the South and tornadoes in the Midwest could happen here.
“Now the tables have turned and people are helping me,” Alec said. “I think it’s really, really nice. It’s kind of everyone to come out here and do such a thing.”
Neighbors helping neighbors is a task residents all over Royal Oak and Clawson have taken on since Aug. 11.
Clawson Mayor Penny Luebs said she knew of residents who were spared helping others who weren’t as fortunate.
“I am proud of Clawson going and growing through this,” Luebs said.
As of press time, there was still much work to do. McVicar couldn’t estimate how many more houses he had on his list. He had too many voicemails and emails awaiting him at the office to count.
“I imagine for the days to come, we’ll be responding to requests,” said McVicar. “Some of the stories are really heartbreaking of people that really don’t have help.”
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