13 days after flooding, Detroiters still want help – and answers

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U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence talks with Jefferson Chalmers resident Harry Jolliffi about flood damage. (BridgeDetroit photo by Bryce Huffman)

Federal, state and local officials spoke with Detroit residents in Jefferson Chalmers today during a joint preliminary damage assessment. Federal officials are in Detroit to evaluate the damage caused by flooding. The visit comes 13 days after the city saw a historic rain event that overwhelmed regional water systems and flooded homes on June 25 and 26. 

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Issa Mansaray, a media relations specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said the agency is mostly looking at damage to buildings, houses and infrastructure, such as flooring and foundations.

“So far, we are seeing a lot of damage to people’s property and seeing debris that has been left outside,” said Mansarary. “People had a lot of flooding in their basements, some lost appliances, so we are looking at all of that.”

Some Jefferson Chalmers residents were skeptical of FEMA’s assessment process. 


Theresa Bonham, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades, said FEMA officials didn’t ask as many questions as she expected.

“They didn’t come in my house, they just stood out here on the sidewalk and asked me basic questions about the damage in my basement, if we lost our furnace, what kind of furniture we lost. But that was really it,” Bonham said. 

Bonham doesn’t believe anyone can do an accurate assessment of the damage from outside the house. 

“Not everybody is dealing with the same level of damage,” said Bonham. “I had to take out floors and walls that were wooden to make sure it didn’t start molding, and some people might have a different situation in their basement.”

FaNina Kumasi-NaKuru lives one block east of Bonham. 

Kumasi-NaKuru said she is tired of talking to officials about the flood damage — she wants answers and help. 

“We are tired of being tired of talking about this,”  said Kumasi-NaKuru. “Please give us money so we can fix our homes, and then go down to the water pumps to fix those and make sure this never happens again.”

Many Detroiters are fed up with waiting for financial assistance. 

At a Thursday press conference, Mayor Mike Duggan asked residents to clean up their homes and to file insurance and damage claims. The mayor urged landlords to do their part, as well. Under state law, residents who have flood damage have until Aug. 10 to file a claim.

Residents should also take photos and keep receipts, the mayor said. 

However, many of the area’s residents feel like they are on their own. 

Harry Jolliffi has lived on Chalmers and Essex for more than 50 years. Jolliffi said he wants answers that the City, State and federal government have failed to provide. 

“When will we be able to repair our homes, and why do we keep having the same flooding problems? This isn’t the first time it’s flooded over here, and I just want to know why this problem still hasn’t been fixed,” Jolliffi said. 

Jolliffi says one of the reasons getting help is so urgent is because he, like many others in the neighborhood, lost his hot water heater. 

“I just want to be able to take a hot bath,” he said. “It’s summertime and there’s still that bad smell from the sewage in our houses. I really just need to take a nice bath. When will I be able to do that?”

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat who represents parts of Detroit, also made a stop in the Jefferson Chalmers area to speak with residents and to oversee FEMA’s evaluation. 

Lawrence said she is happy to see “boots on the ground,” but noted that this is only the beginning of FEMA’s assessment. 

“I’m going to stay with FEMA and stay involved in this process to make sure our residents get all the help they need,” Lawrence said. 

Keefer Virden, who has lived across the street from Jolliffi for most of his life, said he wishes he could put things back in his basement without worrying about another flood. 

“We understand things happen, but this can be prevented,”  said Virden. “As fast as the water came in my basement, it rescinded. So we’re trying to figure out why this happened and how we can stop another flood like this.”

Dale George, a public information officer for the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, said the preliminary damage assessment will last “at least a few days.”

“We want to gather as much information as we can in order to make the request,” George said. 

HOW TO GET HELP: Residents should submit flood damage claims to detroitmi.gov/waterdamageclaims or call 313-267-8000 for clean up help or with questions about applying for claims. 

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