Mucking Hope in Flooded Detroit

Mark Weizenegger

A Greyshirt reflects on helping return a home to habitable for a homeowner in Motown, and what volunteers uncovered along the way.

In April of this year, I deployed to Detroit for Operation Wild Stallion, Team Rubicon’s response to flooding in the city in 2021. Throughout that summer, Detroit sustained multiple flooding events that caused severe damage to structures and roadways. When the city’s stormwater system was overwhelmed, homes and basements flooded. Then, they reflooded under repeated onslaughts of rain, with some basements swamped under 3 to 6 feet of water in them during each of the flooding events—including many of the 40 homes we served during this operation.

I had been assigned as the strike team leader of a mucking crew along with a couple of other Greyshirts and a couple of volunteers from Ford Motors who were assigned to our team. One of the houses that we responded to was a small single-story home that had not been lived in during the last couple of winters due to the furnace and hot water heater having been destroyed by the 2021 flood. 

 The homeowner met us at the house and seemed understandably despondent when she showed us the condition of the basement and furnishings. It was nearly two years after the flood, and the basement was still filled to the ceiling with a mound of moldy clothes, as well as a non-working washer, dryer, refrigerator, and a bunch of other contents. The city’s stormwater system may have failed, but no one had been there to assist in cleaning up all this time. 

As we got to work, the homeowner had been in her car on the side of the street, noticeably upset as we mucked out her basement. After a couple of hours, we had hauled nearly everything from the basement to the boulevard—sans one very nice commercial table saw. Before we left, I met with the homeowner and asked her if we could be of any further assistance. When she looked into the basement, she cried and said, “I’m 69-years-old and grew up in this house with my brothers, sisters, and father, who built cabinets and did other projects down here, and this is the first time that I’ve seen it without clutter. As soon as the county replaces the furnace and hot water heater, I intend to move back and start fixing up the house, starting with the basement.”

When we arrived at the home, I had felt that homeowner’s despair, but as we left, I felt her hope. And as for me, I felt blessed.

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