Detroit Community In Hot Water…


detroit-flooding1Twelve inches of water may not seem like much, but it was enough to spell disaster for the Detroit community.

On Monday, August 11th 2014, the metropolitan Detroit area broke a 90 year record with over 6 inches of rain water accumulating in a few short hours.  The drainage system was entirely inadequate to handle the volume, and within a short amount of time, highways flooded and sewer systems became backed up.  The resultant overflow caused thousands of basements – including those of over 400 Frum families – to become flooded with sewer water, some as high as seven feet.

The collective financial loss is staggering.  Detroit homes are small, and most families count on their basements as critical living space.

Now, the high risk of sewer contamination has forced hundreds of families to completely demolish an important part of their home.  Walls had to be cut a foot above the water line and tossed; sopping wet carpet needed to be removed.  Families have been left with only the above ground levels of their homes intact, and many homes still have yet to be properly cleaned out.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of destroyed possessions – beds, furniture, toys, books, and more – are piled by the curbs, awaiting pickup by the sanitation department.  Ruined appliances such as hot water heaters, washing machines, and dryers dot the sidewalks.

After completing the exhausting clean up process, many families will find that they cannot afford to rebuild their basements and replace lost items.  Numerous families did not have any insurance coverage for sewage back up; and those that did cannot expect to recoup anything close to the amount that was lost.

Fortunately, there is a vehicle of aid already in place.  In a classic example of ‘Refuah Kodem L’Makkah’, the Detroit Chessed Project was spearheaded in the beginning of 2014, to provide the community with financial assistance programs such as Tomchei Shabbos and a clothing/housewares Gemach.  In the aftermath of the flood, the Detroit Chessed Project stepped right into the breach, working feverishly to bring aid to the community in any way possible.

The first – and most important – element of the rescue project has been to call in all available resources, both local and national.  Agudath Israel of America, Agudath Israel of Midwest Region, and Achiezer based out of the Far Rockaway/Five Towns area are working hand in hand with the Detroit Chessed Project; the Jewish Federation of Detroit has been a source of aid as well.  Local companies and agencies are also being solicited, in an effort to alleviate the high cost of replacing the lost appliances, furniture, and clothing. Serta, the renowned mattress company, generously donated a large amount of mattresses and box springs; the Chasdei Lev Organization has assisted with bulk discounts as well, and other similar initiatives are being pursued at this time.

The Detroit Chessed Project is now focusing on securing items like hot water tanks, appliances, furniture, clothing, Sefarim, and toys.  Bowed but not broken, the community is pulling together in every possible way, with the goal of helping hundreds of families rebuild.

For more information and to find out how you can help, visit or call (248) 221-1894.

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  1. This points out the need for all families to have adequate insurance on their homes. Read your policy; you may find things that are excluded from coverage and you can often add such coverage for little extra money.

    Even renters need insurance to protect their personal property; renters insurance is very inexpensive. Any licensed insurance agent can sell you a policy.

  2. Charlie, we did not have flood insurance. Oak Park is not near any body of water and the house has been here since the early 50’s and had never been flooded before. Flood insurance is about $440 a year on a home like mine and we have lived here 24 years. Basically if I had paid for flood insurance all those years, it might equal up to what the flood is costing me now. You might be right about some types of coverage and some types of insurance. No one ever expected this to happen and those of us who were out-of-town when it happened are still cleaning up. I do agree with you that it is important to read the policy and clarify what is a covered expense. I also say that carpets never belong in a basement and we should have removed it when we moved in 24 years ago.

  3. Leah,

    There’s a difference between flood insurance and water backup coverage. To clarify very briefly:

    Water backup coverage is when water or sewage enters your house from a floor drain, sink, bathtub, etc. located in your basement. It’s for when your drain gets clogged or overflowed, which seems to be the case in this instance based on the story described above. Coverage for this is far, far less than $440/year, especially in the Detroit metro where property values are relatively low compared to larger cities like NYC or LA. I live in Chicago, and adding the coverage to my homeowner’s policy costs around $120/year, though obviously the number varies on how much coverage, location, previous claims, etc.

    Flood insurance covers you when water from outside the house enters the premises either through windows, walls, under doors, etc. It seems this also happened in the recent Detroit rains (especially based on the photo provided), in which case you would likely need both flood insurance and water backup coverage to be fully covered. And yes, flood insurance in a non-flood plain is still expensive for some reason.

    My basement flooded on 7/1/14 and that’s when I learned everything. My block is actually getting together and filing a lawsuit against the city because they did some work on our street and blocked the main sewage drain so every house on our block had water and sewage in the basement for the first time since the houses were built in the 50’s.

    I would recommend one of the wonderful organizations helping the community (Agudas Yisrael, whoever) talking to a local attorney and local government representatives to discuss if FEMA money may be available. FEMA helped out in Chicago when it rained about 7 inches in 5 hours in April of 2013, and some people received enough money to entirely renovate their basement. Additionally, though more of a longshot, it may be worthwhile to discuss the situation with and attorney experienced in litigating against the local governmental agency responsible for the drainage systems and see if you might have a case.

    Hatzlacha raba