DETROIT (AP) — A weekend storm in the Detroit area kept flooded sections of Interstate 94 closed for a third day Monday while disgusted homeowners trudged to the curb with possessions ruined by a gross stew of water and sewage that backed up into basements.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said “old infrastructure combined with climate change” and power outages created the misery. Thousands of people were affected in Detroit, Dearborn and the Grosse Pointe communities.
“Lend a hand to your neighbors and loved ones who are struggling. This is a devastating moment,” Whitmer told reporters, standing next to a small lake on I-94. She renewed her call for increased spending to upgrade infrastructure.
The National Weather Service said more than 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of rain fell Friday night and Saturday morning in some areas. Grosse Pointe Park said it measured 8.1 inches (20.5 centimeters) over 24 hours.
Rain for the entire month of June typically is 3 inches (7.6 centimeters), the governor said, so “we had double that in a period of hours.”
In Grosse Pointe Farms, piles of spoiled exercise bikes, sleeper sofas, luggage, hockey equipment, toys and family keepsakes were dumped along the curb. The city sent a trash truck out on Sunday to try to make a dent in the mess.
Marcos Bonafede of Grosse Pointe Park said water reached the ceiling of his basement and killed his cat, Pancho.
“This loss paralyzed me,” Bonafede said in a Facebook plea for help to clear out the basement.
Flooded homes were linked to a pump station failure in Detroit at 1 a.m. Saturday, Grosse Pointe Park told residents.
“It’s just too early to tell right now exactly what happened,” said Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, who promised an investigation while saying the system was not designed to handle so much water.
Mayor Mike Duggan said Detroit had the most rain in one day in 80 years and that the stormwater system “was built for the climate of the 20th century and not the climate of the 21st century. … Here in the Midwest, it looks like these huge rain events are going to be our biggest risk. And that means that the system that served us so well the last century is going to be fundamentally changed if we are going to prevent this from happening over and over again.”
The 2018 National Climate Assessment, the latest in a series of scientific reports required by Congress, predicted more humidity and rainfall in the Midwest and noted that increasing precipitation, “especially heavy rain events, has increased the overall flood risk, causing disruption to transportation and damage to property and infrastructure.” However, climate scientists generally avoid attributing individual storms to global warming without a detailed analysis.
Pumps were removing water from I-94, but much of it is below ground level in Detroit, which amplifies water accumulation, Whitmer said. Power outages hindered the effort over the weekend, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Water on I-94 will recede as swollen rivers and creeks are able to swallow more of it from the pump stations, spokeswoman Diane Cross said.
Police, meanwhile, were still trying to tow abandoned vehicles from I-94.
Nicole Connaire of Grosse Pointe Park said she was looking for a garden statue of a little boy and girl that apparently was swept away during the storm.
“They floated away somewhere and we cannot for the life of us locate them anywhere. … It might bring some joy to this otherwise crazy time,” she said on Facebook.
The Democratic governor, who campaigned on a promise to fix the roads, urged legislative passage of a water infrastructure package. A plan she proposed last fall would allocate $238 million to upgrade stormwater systems. Republicans who control the Senate last week unveiled a $2.5 billion water infrastructure plan that would be funded primarily with federal COVID-19 relief aid. At least $300 million would be earmarked for stormwater and wastewater grants.
A Detroit-area congresswoman, meanwhile, asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study “endless” flooding events in Wayne and western Washtenaw counties and to recommend specific improvements.
“We need a full understanding and recommendations by experts at the federal level on why this continues to happen so our southeast Michigan communities can implement the proper long-term solutions to protect lives and property in the future,” Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell wrote.
Eggert reported from Lansing, Michigan. AP Environmental Writer John Flesher contributed from Traverse City, Michigan.