WARREN — Neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street, the sight was the same. And so were the stories of devastating, heartbreaking loss.
Days after a summer rainstorm brought a historic amount of water down from the sky, the material fabric of people’s lives remained piled on curbs, in some cases, driveway-to-driveway. Furniture, building materials, televisions, toys, bags of clothing and books: It looked like entire city blocks had been evicted.
But the residents remained, left working to haul water-soaked debris from their homes as they struggled to come to terms with the magnitude of the damage.
Michael Schneider stood amid his family’s belongings on the lawn of the home he built 25 years ago on Eureka, north of 10 Mile Road and east of Ryan.
“It’s a state of disaster. I’m totally depressed,” Schneider said, before leading the way to his basement that filled with what he described as “brown water” Aug. 11. A week later, it still smelled like raw sewage. The stench, flies and scope of the damage were overwhelming.
“I got here (on Aug. 11), and there was no lawn,” Schneider said. “It looked like Lake St. Clair. There were waves in the yard. My house looked like an island. You couldn’t see the grass.”
Inside, it appeared as if nothing would be saved from what had been finished basement space where his daughter lived.
Up the street, Mary Parks was finishing up the sad task of carrying family belongings from her parents’ home to the curb.
Parks, who now lives in Cass City, said she came to Warren to help her 88-year-old mother and sister with the cleanup when the roads were reopened after the flood.
“None of this has any value. It’s all just junk,” Parks said. “But it all has that memory.”
Among the sentimental items now headed for the dump was a L-shaped bar bought years ago as a gift for her late father.
“It just represents all the fun we’ve had in the basement as a family,” Parks said. “It was the hardest thing to throw away.”
Across Center Line, Warren and much of metro Detroit, the required cleanup will be lengthy and costly. Many residents said they lacked insurance coverage for plumbing and sewer back-ups, and soldiered on with the cleanup alone. Many shopped for new appliances, cleaning supplies and building materials. Many tried to limit the damage to other parts of the home by disposing of anything that was contaminated and leaving soiled clothing and shoes at the door.
The cleanup effort left thousands of tons of trash at the curb for collection, stretching the resources of local trash haulers to the max. Scrappers in overloaded trucks were a common sight in many neighborhoods, sifting through trash piles as the post-flood cleanup dragged on.
Tens of thousands of people saw their lives turned upside down by the flood, the result of what some said were rains that occur only once in perhaps hundreds of years.
Sadly, a 100-year-old woman reportedly died in Warren. But the toll in human life could have been much worse, given the extent of the disaster.
“We were fortunate that we didn’t lose any life, or have any accidents,” Center Line Mayor David Hanselman said. “We upgraded our system to take a 100-year rain. And then we had a 300-year rain.”
More than 5 inches of rain fell within three hours Aug. 11, flooding portions of Van Dyke in Center Line and Warren, as well as many other main roads, freeways and local streets.
Hanselman said he had 4 inches of water in his basement on McKinley but that some Center Line residents had a foot or more.
His neighbors on nearby Menge and Potomac perhaps fared the worst in the city.
“I think that the Center Line residents on a whole are strong people, and when they looked around and watched the television and heard the news and everything else, they’ve seen this was something that was a catastrophe and was unavoidable,” Hanselman said. “It is catastrophic.”
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts toured neighborhoods damaged by flooding with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin on Aug. 18.
The mayor said he would continue to press the city’s case for immediate aid from the state and the federal government, as well as changes to the rules governing insurance coverage for homeowners.
“When I went on the tour with the governor, I told him insurance is No. 1,” Fouts said. “That is the real problem. Most people thought they had basement insurance coverage, and they didn’t.”
Fouts said he would petition the state to “require transparency” about what is and isn’t covered under homeowner insurance. He also said he’d like the state to require all insurers to offer coverage for sewer and drain backups at an affordable price.
In the meantime, Fouts said the city would waive building permit fees for residents dealing with the aftermath of flooded basements.