‘Once in a lifetime’ flooding hits Woodward corridor

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published August 12, 2014

 Vehicles try to get through the intersection at Academy Street and Hilton Road in Ferndale as the streets flood Aug. 11.

Vehicles try to get through the intersection at Academy Street and Hilton Road in Ferndale as the streets flood Aug. 11.

Photo by Brian Louwers

While commuters were trying to get home Aug. 11 at around 5:30 p.m., much of metro Detroit was hit with extensive rainfall that caused the flooding of local roads, freeways and many residents’ basements.

The rain was constant throughout the day Aug. 11, but according to Ferndale Department of Public Works Director Loyd Cureton, the worst of the storm hit the Woodward corridor between 5:30-7 p.m. In about 90 minutes, sections of Berkley, Ferndale, Huntington Woods and Pleasant Ridge saw more than 5 inches of rain.

“In about 90 minutes we saw somewhere over 5 inches here, and it was catastrophic,” Cureton said. “We had crews working around the clock and overnight in some areas because manholes were blown off and we had to get those covers back on for the pedestrian safety and vehicle safety. Traffic became a gridlock because the expressways closed and diverted traffic to Woodward, and some people literally left their car and went home.

“It was more of a flash flood experience for people in their vehicles, and they had to abandon them and now (the cars) are floating.”

Cureton said in the southern area of Ferndale, near Eight Mile Road and the railroad underpass, roughly 10 feet of water accumulated as people abandoned their cars and forced a section of the road to be closed.

Water accumulation on Interstate 696 and Interstate 75 forced local and state police to close portions of the freeways, which caused most of the traffic problems along the Woodward corridor, Cureton said.

In Ferndale, a City Council meeting was set to take place at 7 p.m. and was canceled at the last minute because of flooding at City Hall and to let DPW, fire and police officials respond to the emergency.

City Hall was closed Aug. 12, as power was out, but Cureton anticipated that City Hall would reopen Aug. 13.

“There was flooding at City Hall, and it lost power, and we just restored the power there, and now we are in the process of looking at the 911 system,” Cureton said Aug. 12. “We experienced an event that you will probably only see once in a lifetime. It was really that significant.”

Ferndale Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan said Ferndale lost the 911 dispatch early Aug. 11 following the flooding of City Hall, and an emergency backup was set up in Hazel Park. As officials work to get dispatch back up in Ferndale, Sullivan said his department’s concern has been working with residents on basement flooding.

“There were streets flooding and cars floating over the railroad, so we had to shut that down from Pontiac to Detroit because the water was pretty deep,” he said. “We had stormwater surging and pushing against sewers and backing up and into people’s toilets. A lot of basements had smoke because of water reaching the electric, so we encouraged people to stay out of their basements. We still have extra crews in, and we are dealing with the smoke and shortage issues, and homes being full of water seems to be the biggest problem.”

Cureton said that while Ferndale has had a history of sewage backups, the problems on Aug. 11 were not a city problem, but a regional problem. And, with extra help at the water pumps, the city was able to avoid losing pressure and possibly contaminating the water.

“In this extreme condition we had people manning the water systems so we did not lose the pumps, because that is the last thing you want to do, because losing the pumps means losing water pressure and losing the water system,” Cureton said. “We maintained adequate pressure throughout the event and are in no danger of contamination. This event had nothing to do with the Ferndale sewer system because it was an overwhelming event, regional in nature, and it completely overwhelmed everyone’s system, both private and public.”

According to a Berkley press release, the almost 5 inches of rain the city saw in one night is typically what the city gets in two months. DPW crews are continuing to work to clear the streets, the release said, and advised that the water is safe to drink and trash pickup will go ahead as scheduled.

“We experienced multiple flooded roads, hundreds of houses with backed up basements, and some flooding so extreme it was up to the first floor,” Berkley Public Safety Deputy Chief Robert North said. “We were actually taking 911 calls for Oak Park, because their system was overloaded and it was just a mess. We took several hundred telephone calls over a four-hour period, and we had roads too deep that cars were knocked out and we had to help people out of cars.”

In Huntington Woods, DPW Manager Claire Galed said city officials had to deal with downed trees blocking roads and basements flooding.

With between 5 and 6 inches of rain in less than two hours, Galed said the water had nowhere to go, which was the cause for much of the flooding.

“My guess is that I would say a least half of the houses had water in their basement from a few inches to 5 or 7 feet of water,” she said. “Water will go wherever it can go and it just takes the route of least resistance. When there is so much water in such a short length of time, the system did not know where to put it, and the one place it could go was back up people’s sewer systems and into homes.

“I hope it does not rain like that again for a hundred years.”

Galed said the city is encouraging people to put trash at the curb whenever they can, as garbage pickup may be behind the rest of the week. Huntington Woods City Hall also is selling trash bags for half price and recycling bags are available for free.