A week later: Examining floods that submerged Detroit’s roads, freeways (with audio)

Hours of torrential rain was finally too much for Detroit’s sewage system to handle.

At 5:20 p.m  on Aug. 11., water quickly began to rise out of manholes and sewer grates on I-75 near 7 Mile Road  in what would be the beginning of massive flooding that submerged dozens, if not hundreds, of cars.

We reviewed dispatch calls and 911 records to get a clearer picture of the floods and their impact on Detroit and Highland Park. From 5:30 p.m. to midnight, firefighters were called more than 2o times to rescue stranded motorists. During the same period, firefighters responded to 27 reported house fires related to basement flooding and other rain issues.

The worst flooding was almost exclusively on the west side and along Woodward and I-75 north of Highland Park, as indicated in the map below.

View Trapped in Aug. 11 floods Detroit in a full screen map

Signs of serious problems came after several inches of rain had fallen by 5:30 p.m., when firefighters from Engine Co. 56 were called to reports of flooding on I-75.

“We have miles of cars backed up,” a firefighter told dispatchers at 5:30 p.m. “We have a lot of cars stuck in the water.”

I-75 a day after the flood.
I-75 a day after the flood.

As the water continued to rise on the freeway, the city’s streets also flooded. Motorists became stranded in water on Woodward, Joy, W. Chicago, Southfield, McNichols and E. 7 Mile. The underpasses at Livernois, Clark and Junction also were under water.

“All the streets down here are flooded,” Engine Co. 52 told dispatchers while responding to a fire alarm at 7:22 p.m. on the east side. “Water is coming out of the manholes.”

By 7:49 p.m., I-75 was under 4 to 5 feet of water at 7 Mile, and firefighters had rescued numerous people there and elsewhere.

When fires broke out, the flooding and traffic prevented some fire rigs from reaching their destinations.

The Fire Department responded to about 110 reported emergencies between 5:30 p.m. and midnight.

No serious injuries were reported.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.