Ferndale neighborhoods and roadways, including Hilton Road south of Nine Mile Road, were left flooded on Aug. 11, 2014.

Ferndale neighborhoods and roadways, including Hilton Road south of Nine Mile Road, were left flooded on Aug. 11, 2014.

File photo by Brian Louwers


Painful memories, concerns persist 5 years after 2014 flood

By: Brian Louwers, Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published July 31, 2019

 The Michigan State Police use a boat to navigate Interstate 75 near the Interstate 696 overpass on Aug. 12, 2014, the day after historic rainfall left the roadway underwater and much of the region damaged.

The Michigan State Police use a boat to navigate Interstate 75 near the Interstate 696 overpass on Aug. 12, 2014, the day after historic rainfall left the roadway underwater and much of the region damaged.

File photo by Sean Work

 Between 4 and 6 inches of rain in a span of about four hours flooded basements, damaged vehicles and left several roadways closed, including part of the Interstate 696 and Mound Road interchange in Warren.

Between 4 and 6 inches of rain in a span of about four hours flooded basements, damaged vehicles and left several roadways closed, including part of the Interstate 696 and Mound Road interchange in Warren.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 A deluge of rain floods Julia and Scott Beattie’s Clawson front yard and street on Aug. 11, 2014. Water reached the top step of their front porch, which stands approximately 2 feet off the ground, before it began to subside.

A deluge of rain floods Julia and Scott Beattie’s Clawson front yard and street on Aug. 11, 2014. Water reached the top step of their front porch, which stands approximately 2 feet off the ground, before it began to subside.

File photo

 Michael Schneider, of Warren, stands amid his family’s belongings soaked with a mixture of water and sewage outside his home on Eureka Drive in August 2014. The loss at his home was immense, including his daughter’s clothing.

Michael Schneider, of Warren, stands amid his family’s belongings soaked with a mixture of water and sewage outside his home on Eureka Drive in August 2014. The loss at his home was immense, including his daughter’s clothing.

File photo by Brian Louwers

METRO DETROIT — As the five-year anniversary of the devastating Aug. 11, 2014, flood nears, we take a look back at the initial panic, mounting loss and long-lasting damage.

As the flood waters subsided and the piles of garbage grew, the impact of what had happened became clearer in the days and weeks that followed. A big chunk of metro Detroit saw neighborhood streets lined with trash for weeks. There were reports of state police divers searching submerged cars on the flooded freeway and of Warren firefighters using a boat to rescue people at a flooded restaurant.

 

‘I don’t feel our community can afford another flood like that’
Julia and Scott Beattie moved into their Clawson home two months before the historic flood of August 2014.

Julia recalls a light drizzle throughout the day as she and her 13-month-old ran errands, and then, after dinner, the rain picked up and just kept coming for hours. Water bubbled out of the toilet, drains and shower.

“We were in shock. We had never seen anything like it,” she said. “The wood chips were coming up through the drain from our yard. There was so much rain, it was carrying wood chips from our landscaping down to the drain and back up.”

The pair immediately began lifting as much furniture in the basement as they could, but 3 1/2 feet of water ultimately settled in their basement and stayed there. Bookshelves holding first-edition books floated away. Most of everything was destroyed.

“The water went over our circuit, triggered an electrical fire and the water put it out,” Julia said. “Eventually, we had to leave the basement. We waded through a foot of water to a neighbor’s house and we couldn’t even leave.”

They had planned to go to her parents’ house in Grand Blanc, but had to wait almost two hours for the water to recede enough to drive on the roads.

“We left with a backpack of (our daughter’s) things and some valuables,” she said. “We didn’t know what we were coming back to the next day.”

The couple soon learned that they had to rip out the walls and 15 feet of concrete foundation, mediate asbestos tiles exposed during the process, and ultimately spend $45,000 in repairs and preventative measures. Their daughter was 2 years old the first time she was allowed back in the basement.

They installed a backwater system, which prevents water from coming into the home if the first system fails, as well as a sump pump.

Despite assurances that the dual pump would never activate again, Julia said she has already heard the backwater valve activate several times this year.

She said she was thankful that her family had insurance on the backwater valve, received some compensation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and could tap into their savings.

“We were fortunate to have those kinds of resources — many families did not,” Julia said.

Going forward, her main objective is to raise awareness about the need for improved infrastructure and long-term resolutions to prevent such a catastrophic event from occurring again.

“I don’t feel our community can afford another flood like that. We would hope to see that they improve the city and the county really take a look at our sewer system and how the George W. Kuhn system could be improved,” she said. “I think it’s just really important to come together as a community and work together to find long-term solutions.”

 

‘Oh my gosh. This is everything.’
Everything taken to the curb after the flood had to go somewhere, and someone had to take it there. Enter the sanitation workers who mounted a Herculean effort in the weeks that followed to clean up the mess.

Shanon Caramagno-Rupkus is the director of operations for Car Trucking Inc., a family-owned waste hauler based in Clinton Township that handles sanitation for four metro Detroit communities, including Ferndale.

The company runs with 40-45 employees a day to handle its municipal routes. Caramagno-Rupkus said they knew things were going to be bad immediately after the flood, but they had no idea how bad it was going to get.

“We tried not to do more than 12-hour shifts, ever. They primarily ran 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” she said. “They were sometimes out there until 8:30. (Trucks) were so filled up, crews couldn’t get to other routes. Literally, we were filling up entire trucks with three or four houses.”

The flood happened on a Monday. Caramagno-Rupkus said it became clear by Thursday that they were heading into a major, protracted crisis. They were already filling triple the number of trucks.

In the weeks that followed, Car Trucking moved a year’s worth of garbage out of Ferndale.

Other haulers, including Tringali Sanitation, Green for Life Environmental (formally Rizzo Environmental Services) and Warren’s in-house Sanitation Department, handled immense loads in other communities.

It wasn’t just trash they were removing. It was precious memories soaked in stormwater, sewage or both.

“I remember my guys being upset and saying, ‘They lost all their baby pictures.’ One guy was like, ‘Can we help them bring some stuff upstairs? She lost all her mom’s stuff. It was all ruined. She was hysterical,’” Caramagno-Rupkus said.

She said some of her crews asked to go back after hours to help senior citizens. Exhausted crews often struggled to pick up just one more street’s waste at the end of the day.    

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. This is everything.’ It looked like a wall of items on everybody’s curb,” Caramagno-Rupkus said. “Until you’ve lived through something like that, I don’t think you could imagine what that is really like. It was really every single house. Every single street. Every single piece of the route. Every single day of the week.”

 

‘We had no idea how big it was going to be’
Getting the deluge of flood-related waste off the curb was an exhausting challenge, and moving it to its final home in a landfill was equally difficult.

“Once it’s off the streets, it comes to our transfer station. The flood was Monday night. By Thursday, we were overwhelmed,” said Jeff McKeen, general manager for the South Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority, or SOCRRA.

The authority has a transfer station on Coolidge Highway in Troy, and it opened a second one in Madison Heights to help manage the mountains of flood refuse. McKeen said they had to bring in outside contractors to help move trash to the landfills.

“The landfills were not overwhelmed. They were able to take everything we gave them,” McKeen said. “It took us probably three, four weeks to get everything cleaned up. It was bad.”

SOCRRA numbers between Aug. 12 and Sept. 7, 2014, illustrate the scale of the disaster in trash tonnage. The figures were compiled as part of a report for FEMA and include trash removed from SOCRRA’s communities affected by the flood: Berkley, Beverly Hills, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and Troy.

“During that time, we had 27,600 tons of trash come our way, and we expected to have 7,160 tons — 3.85 times as much as we expected,” McKeen said.

Huntington Woods, with 3,438 tons of trash removed during that period, logged the greatest increase in trash; its normal amount would have been 166 tons.

 

Tied up in court
The flooding affected many communities, and those hardest hit face lawsuits, including Royal Oak and Clawson. Both cities are facing a lawsuit filed by the Hanover Insurance Group Inc. to recoup claims paid to policyholders, as well as a class-action lawsuit brought by residents.

Clawson City Attorney John Kingsepp said Clawson and 12 other cities, as well as Oakland County and the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office, recently agreed to be involved in mediation discussions and to begin to iron out how the process will unfold.

“I can’t tell you precisely what is going to evolve when we have our meeting in September because the judge hasn’t defined that,” Kingsepp said. “I’m sure he will do that when we get to it, but this case is very complicated.”

He advised the Clawson City Council and city manager to meet in closed session to discuss strategy and what approach to take, including settlement figures, since the city does not have flood sewage insurance.

Royal Oak City Attorney David Gillam said Oakland County Circuit Court has been trying to expedite the vast number of cases stemming from Aug. 11, 2014, by consolidating them as mass tort cases.

“The court has been conducting kind of progress reports or status conferences on all of the cases at the same time to move through the process,” Gillam said. “Oakland County filed motions to dismiss, but those motions have been denied, and they appealed those denials, but the denials have been upheld.”

He said there has not been much action on any of the cases, but all of the parties did agree to go through a facilitation process at the judge’s suggestion, looking in particular for any room for compromise.

Gillam said the Hanover Insurance Group lawsuit originally involved around 500 people. Neither Royal Oak nor Clawson has established a list of those involved in the residential class-action lawsuit, but Gillam said more than 2,400 claims were originally filed with his office in 2014.