Rainfall floods streets, highways in Royal Oak and Clawson

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published August 12, 2014

 A police boat cruises through the floodwaters on I-75 near the I-696 overpass on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. Extremely heavy rains the day before left many roads throughout the area closed.

A police boat cruises through the floodwaters on I-75 near the I-696 overpass on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. Extremely heavy rains the day before left many roads throughout the area closed.

Photo by Sean Work

According to the National Weather Service, southeast Oakland County received 6 inches of rain Aug. 11, which overwhelmed the stormwater systems in Royal Oak, Clawson and other municipalities throughout metro Detroit.

Sara Schultz, a meteorologist from the NWS White Lake Office, 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 on Aug. 11.

Yet the storm system itself was nothing significant.

“It was just a regular low-pressure system that moved through,” she 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, which inundated the stormwater systems throughout the region.

“Everything could not keep up,” Schultz said.

Michigan State Police sent out an advisory telling drivers to stay off the roads, and floodwaters made reaching residents difficult for emergency personnel, who responded to a significant increase in calls for assistance.

Clawson Police Chief Harry Anderson said officers got help reaching houses from the Fire Department and the Department of Public Works.

“Our biggest problem last night was our guys getting to the calls — because of the floods,” Anderson said. “So that’s when you need a little bigger of a vehicle.”

On a typical day, Clawson police respond to 15 calls for service. On Aug. 11, the department fielded 26 calls, 14 of which were for road hazards and four for property damage crashes.

Anderson said there were no significant injuries.

In Royal Oak, police reported that they received 500 calls in reference to basement flooding and officers impounded up to 35 vehicles that were left abandoned on roadways and that posed hazards, according to the city.

A significant number of those were left at railroad viaducts, where water collected under the elevated railroad tracks. The flooding under the tracks, which travel primarily north-south through the city, kept some residents like Preston Van Vliet unable to access vehicular routes to their homes.

He parked his car at Sycamore Avenue and Bonnie View to look for a foot route home.

“Now it was dark,” he said in an email. “And I was without a flashlight. But enough of the neighbors were outside that it was easy to ask for advice.”

After wading through waist-deep water at several intersections, Van Vliet eventually found a hole in the fence along the tracks and walked the rest of the way to his apartment near 13 Mile and Crooks roads.

The Royal Oak Fire Department had to have three fire trucks towed after driving through large pools of water. The Police Department had one vehicle towed.

“They expect (all of the vehicles) to be up and running again,” said Judy Davids, the city’s community engagement specialist.

According to the city, the heavy rainfall caused significant damage to southbound Stephenson Highway along Interstate 75 at Dallas Avenue.

Davids said the embankment gave way and slid down to the highway’s already flooded surface, damaging a pump station that is designed to pull water off the expressway.

“When the embankment eroded, it took the pump station with it,” she said, adding that the portion of Stephenson will have to be replaced. Further, the embankment would have to be stabilized before southbound I-75 can be reopened.

As of Aug. 14, southbound Stephenson Highway near the intersection of Interstate 696 and I-75 was the only road in Royal Oak still closed.

“Stephenson will not be open for some time,” said City Manager Don Johnson.