The record-breaking rainfall that swept through southeast Michigan Aug. 11 left behind a huge path of destruction. It flooded freeways, local streets and basements, leaving residents and business owners to deal with the excess water and devastating damage.
The storm unleashed a record-breaking 4.57 inches of total rainfall at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, more than doubling the previous high-water mark, 2.06 in 1964, according to the National Weather Service.
Some parts of Oakland County saw even more accumulation — Southfield reporting the largest rainfall in the county, with a storm total of 6.25 inches. Berkley was close behind with an estimated 6 inches, Troy reported 5.46 inches, Warren had 5.2 inches and Rochester reported 4.9 inches.
The rainfall closed portions of five of the area's major freeways by 7 p.m. Aug. 11, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The day after the storm, Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik said several of the city’s surface streets flooded during the storm, which caused some cars to be trapped in the water.
“It’s just because the water was coming down far quicker than what the drains can take away. We saw this widespread (across the city) this time, in some of the newer sections of town to some of the older sections,” he said. “We also had quite a few cars that were stuck in the water during the height of the storm, and in most cases, the batteries and electrical systems were shorted out.”
But everything on the roads was “back to normal” as of 10 p.m. the night of the storm, according to Rochester City Manager Jaymes Vettraino.
On Aug. 12, Vettraino said the city experienced no issues on public property, but he admitted that there were some reports of private homes with flooded basements.
Cieslik said Fire Department personnel assisted in the evacuation of two elderly residents from a home in a low-lying area on South Street that became surrounded by flood waters.
“We had a house that was completely surrounded by 2 to 3 feet of water … so the Fire Department, along with the DPW, responded down there to help get the people out of their house,” he said.
On Aug. 12, Rochester Department of Public Works Director Bill Bohlen said that although it had been a “slightly crazy” 24 hours, Rochester weathered the storm fairly well.
“The city’s parks system survived very well. The road network did well, all things considered, and we have begun sweeping up organic materials that remain in the street. Lastly, DPW staff checked all road storm sewer structures to make sure they were not obstructed with debris.”
By Wednesday, Aug. 13 — less than 48 hours after the storm — MDOT was able to reopen nearly all the closed freeway routes, due to round-the-clock work that began late Monday, Aug. 11 and was completed by the afternoon on Aug. 13. MDOT officials said maintenance crews, along with state and county partners and contractors, moved record-breaking amounts of rainfall from the freeways and crews worked diligently to get pump stations working, address electrical issues, and remove debris from the roads, including mud and abandoned vehicles.
MDOT’s State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle said in a statement that metro Detroit had not experienced a rain event like this in “more than a century.”
“I’m exceedingly proud of the hard-working men and women at MDOT who worked around the clock to restore mobility on southeast Michigan freeways. We also want to thank motorists for their patience during this time,” he said in a statement.
Officials said MDOT has been doing safety checks on affected infrastructure since Monday evening and will continue to assess for further damage caused by the storm. Although repair costs have not been estimated, MDOT officials expect them to be significant. At press time, problems that had already been identified include compromised pavement, slope washout, and other issues under bridges. Further extensive cleanup was expected, including catch basins and sweeping the road surface. Preliminary cleanup costs are estimated to be around $500,000.
Shortly after noon on Wednesday, Aug. 13, Gov. Rick Snyder declared metro Detroit to be in a state of disaster.
“The flooding has threatened public health and safety due to widespread and severe damage to homes, businesses, public facilities and infrastructure, and has created major difficulties for transportation in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties,” he said in the declaration. “Local resources have been insufficient to address the situation, and state assistance is required to protect public health, safety and property, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe.”
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson also declared a local state of emergency for Oakland County in the aftermath the flooding.
“Oakland County wants to ensure that all the channels are clear for our communities to request assistance in the aftermath of this historic flooding,” Patterson said in a statement.
In a letter to Snyder, Patterson requested debris removal; repair of damages related to flooding; repair or replacement of damaged equipment; overtime costs for first responders, public works crews and other employees involved in response and cleanup activities; funding assistance related to all non-insured public and private properties; and support through the recovery process — to supplement local response and recovery efforts.
County officials said the Homeland Security Division had been collecting damage assessment information from local municipalities since Monday evening. They said that information will be submitted to the state of Michigan to support the formal request for assistance.
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