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Hazel Park, Madison Heights

August 12, 2014

Heavy rain floods Madison Heights, Hazel Park

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

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This view west of Madison Heights City Hall shows Civic Center Plaza under several feet of water following the torrential downpour Aug. 11.

MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — By the time the storm ended Aug. 11, Civic Center Plaza had become a lake, and Madison Heights City Hall an island, stranding staff, councilmembers and residents who were there for a council meeting.  

Eighteen city vehicles were submerged. A couple officials had their vehicles totaled, the water rising above the seats. The garage on the side of the courthouse was flooded; so was the tunnel linking the courthouse to the police station.

“I didn’t get home until 2 a.m. last night,” said Jeffrey Mueller, Madison Heights’ assistant city manager, on Aug. 12. “I had a DPS person drive me home, because my car was 3 feet deep in water, and I couldn’t get to it. When I got back to my car this morning, it had 4 inches of water in it.

“It was crazy,” he said. “They’re saying it was a 100-to-200-year storm, and I can believe it. There were basements flooding all over the city. No system can handle that kind of storm.”   

According to the National Weather Service White Lake Office, southeast Oakland County received six inches of rain.

Sara Schultz, a meteorologist from NWS, said the entirety of southeastern Michigan — stretching from Wayne County to Saginaw County — was hit with heavy rainfall.

Schultz said the National Weather Service keeps track of historical weather records out of three airports throughout Southeast Michigan: Detroit Metro Airport, Bishop International Airport in Flint, and MBs International Airport outside of Saginaw. All three recorded record rainfall Aug. 11.

Yet the storm system itself was nothing notable.

“It was just a regular low-pressure system that moved through,” Schultz said. “It just happened to be very moist.”

The storm was near Toledo at about noon and then moved north to metro Detroit, and did not stop dumping rain for six hours.

She said the amount of rain in such a relatively short period inundated the storm water systems throughout the region, flooding roads, expressways and basements.

“Everything could not keep up,” Schultz said.

Pastor Barry David, at Landmark Community Church in Hazel Park, was stunned to see Interstate 75 under more than 10 feet of water.

“It’s flooded as far as the eye can see, north and south on I-75,” David said after the rain had stopped. “It’s probably up to 10 feet below the I-696 flyover just north of here. There are submerged cars you can’t see; other cars are partially submerged. People have been stopping in our parking lot, trying to find their way along; all of the exits are shut down, and they’re routing traffic up and down the service drives. They’re all trying to merge together right in front of the church. There have been no accidents, but traffic is really tied up.”

Some people got out of their vehicles and crossed the service drive to peer over the edge into the watery depths below.

“One of the signs on the overpass had water all the way up to the bottom of it,” David said. “This is historic. I’ve never seen anything close to this at all. It looks like a river down there, except the water is not moving.”

Chris DuBerg, director of public works in Hazel Park, said they dispatched only a few people at the onset of the storm, but quickly realized they needed more as the rain came down harder and harder.

“The entire DPS crew, and Water and Sewer crew, came in and worked until 2 a.m. We secured I-75 until MDOT took over, and then we rolled through the streets and found about 75 percent of the roads were clear at that time,” Duberg said. “We went home around 3 a.m., and then we came back at 7 a.m. to drive all of the streets again and clear debris out of the catch basins. Our district engineer will have to make sure there is no damage to the I-75 bridge or roadway, since the water was 10-12 feet deep and touching the bottom of the bridges.

“I’m so tired — my eyes feel like sandpaper,” he added with a laugh. “The rain was unprecedented; it was extreme, like this winter. I’m calling it ‘rain-mageddon.’” 

The Michigan State Police issued a release Aug. 12 saying the Michigan Department of Transportation was making every effort to reopen I-75, I-696, M-39, M-10 and all other major routes in the metro Detroit region.

The release cautioned that if you must drive, remember that 6 inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars and could cause loss of control and stalling, while a foot of water will float many vehicles. Also, the depth of water is not always obvious from the surface. And one should never attempt to bypass barricades, which are set up for safety reasons.

The best approach may be simply to not travel during a flood.

“Be patient, and be safe,” Duberg said. “These events usually clear themselves up within a few hours. So don’t take any chances.”

C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn contributed to this report

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.