Two Inches of Rain Fell Today, Flooding Northlawn Avenue With Misery Again

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Alice Dreger for ELi

Northlawn Avenue residents are still cleaning up belongings ruined from flooding during the Aug. 12, 2021, downpour.

Just as the rain was subsiding this afternoon, residents on Northlawn Avenue in East Lansing’s Glencairn Neighborhood could be seen venturing out on the torn-up street with snow shovels and squeegees, trying to clear the City’s drains of silt, leaves, and gravel.

They were attempting to stop storm water from again pouring into their and their neighbors’ recently-flooded houses. Piles of personal belongings ruined by the August 12 floods still line that street.

One Northlawn Avenue resident who declined to be named told ELi, “I feel abandoned by this City. I just want to get the hell out of here.”

Following the downpour of seven or more inches of rain in mid-August, a survey by ELi of readers found a cluster of flooding reports in the area of the Northlawn Avenue sewer reconstruction.

But ELi reported last week the City’s official position: that project was not the cause of houses flooding in Glencairn.

“We understand that this flooding was caused by this rainfall event and was not caused by any failure of City utilities or any other City actions, including construction,” Acting Director of Public Works Nicole McPherson told ELi by email after the August 12 floods.

McPherson, who is a civil engineer, drove to the neighborhood this afternoon in her own vehicle, stopping to talk with residents there. (She declined to speak with ELi this afternoon.)

But homeowners along Northlawn Avenue tell ELi that the City’s official explanation simply can’t be true. They have been in their houses in some cases twenty or thirty years and say they’ve never had water in their basements until this sewer reconstruction project.

Haidar Jafar and Nuha Alnajafi, who live on the east end of Northlawn near Abbot Road, could be seen today filling up a dumpster trailer with personal belongings caused by the August flood, even as they faced more water problems today.

Their house has no basement, and during August’s extraordinary rain, they found themselves in their home with water over their knees. Alnajafi said the situation ruined most of their furnishings as well as many personal belongings.

Asked about whether they have received direct assistance from the City, Jafar told ELi they have not. Other residents report the same.

Jafar said he can clearly see that the storm drains are not draining the water in these rains. Even an hour after the rain had stopped, standing water filled sections of the street, and the resident who lives next to Jafar’s home had pumps going to try to save his home from further damage.

Alice Dreger for ELi

The sewer construction site on Northlawn after the Sept. 13 rain was again full of standing water, but devoid of workers.

Elias Strangas, an electrical engineer who lives at the other end of Northlawn, near Glenhaven Avenue, told ELi today that, during this afternoon’s downpour, the Northlawn-Glenhaven intersection filled with water, with cars “looking like boats.”

During the August rain, despite their sump pumps, Strangas and his wife Jane Turner had 12 inches of rain accumulate in their basement – something they have never experienced in twenty years of living in the home.

Strangas’s house is upstream of the active sewer work; his part of the street is not due for reconstruction until next year. And, while he knows the City engineers have said the system is working and that the August rain was just a freak event, Strangas said it can’t be true that the system is functioning properly given what they’ve experienced in June, August, and now September.

Strangas told ELi that, this afternoon, his home had “rain water coming back into the basement, and what was stopping it was the check valve….That tells me the City [system] was not absorbing water.”

He says the system, if it is working, should absolutely have been able to handle today’s rain.

“This was not a hundred-year rain,” Strangas said. “This was just a summer thunderstorm.”

Alice Dreger for ELi

Northlawn Avenue near Shaw Park just after the rain on Sept. 13, 2021.

Many homeowners in the area worry their insurance won’t cover the losses, in part because of how the City may opt to classify the cause.

Anne and Rob Meermans live on Northlawn Avenue and feel lucky that they increased their insurance last year and lost only a water heater in the August flood. They have lived in their home for over thirty years and have never experienced what they did in August: six inches of water in their basement.

Rob Meermans said that there had been an occasional trickle in the past, but “nothing like this.”

“Still, we were lucky,” said Anne Meermans. “If we ever feel sorry for ourselves, we think about the people who live down the road,” who have had major losses.

“We’re wondering what’s going on, and why this is happening,” said Rob.

They are looking forward to the reconstruction on their end of the street next year, but are concerned about what will be happening in the meantime.

Multiple residents we spoke to today expressed frustration at a lack of assistance from the City, particularly the resident who did not wish to be named. Several pointed to storm drains that have been obscured by debris or that had water standing in them.

One pointed out a drain at the corner of Northlawn and Sunset Lane that was full of water a full hour after the rains had stopped.

A storm drain on Northlawn Avenue near Sunset Lane an hour after the rain stopped on Sept. 13, 2021.

City of East Lansing-marked vehicles drove by, but the workers in them did not stop to talk to the residents who had come out of their homes to check on each other.

Residents in the area have taken to assembling information themselves, including through the Freedom of Information Act, and some are talking about joining together to seek legal action.

Correction, Sept. 13, 2021, 8 p.m.: Elias Strangas sent in a correction that he meant to say his basement had 30 cm. (not 30 inches) of rain, so this article has been corrected to note that his basement had 12 (not 30) inches of rain during the Aug. 12 flood. Additionally, one regular reader who lives in the area affected reported that workers for the contractor were in the area during and after the rain, so a sentence that said they were not seen at the time has been deleted to reflect that.

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