Last Wednesday’s flooding in Big Rapids, due to heavy rains and an overflowing Muskegon River, has led many homeowners and business owners to clean up the aftermath.
Jordan Hiltunen, a Ferris State University student studying pharmacology, lives with his wife and sister on Fuller Avenue. His sister was home when their apartment began to flood.
“I was at work and I got a call,” he says. “My sister called me real frantically saying that there’s water coming in from seemingly everywhere. I told her to shut off the breakers, get all of our animals together and that I’d be running right home. And then when I did, the water was probably almost up to my knee and all of our clothes were just floating around. Our dog dish floated on by. And it was kind of a surreal thing to see, your house in that state.”
Hiltunen has lived through two other floods in his lifetime, not in this apartment, but he still never imagined it would happen again.
They have renter’s insurance, but Hiltunen admits they never considered an optional flood insurance policy, if it’s even an option for renters.
“I hoped that that would help. But they said they only cover things like a paper store or drains backing up or something. So since it was a natural disaster, they won’t pay out a dime,” he said.
Most of their personal items are destroyed, leaving them to pay for replacements.
“Just looking at the cost of our all of our furniture, our couch, our dresser, our beds, a lot of our clothes, all of our electronics, the laptop I use for school, it’s all gone,” says Hiltunen. “So I’m going to be honest, when I first came in and I was looking around, I just started crying because it took me years to build up all of that. And even though I’m by no means wealthy, I was very proud of the work I’d done. To see it all gone like that was devastating.”
The only personal documents not destroyed by water was Hiltunen and his wife’s marriage certificate, and his birth certificate.
Hiltunen’s wife’s father died when she was young. Photos of him and newspaper clippings are damaged from the water. Even the dining room table her grandfather made will need to be thrown out.
“That’s the hardest part of it all,” says Hiltunen. “I’m not worried about the money and what not. I mean, it’s upsetting to be sure, but those little things, what do you do?”
Hiltunen started a to help pay for everything that needs to be replaced. Meanwhile, he and his wife are staying at his fraternity house.
Clean-up crews will continue to dry out the apartment the next week or so, but Hiltunen is still not sure when they might be able to return, if at all.
Crews are also working to clean up the basement at Toppings Frozen Yogurt on the corner of Hemlock Street. The Muskegon River is behind the business and it overflowed from the heavy rain, causing water to flood the basement, nine feet high.
“Obviously, any time you have a basement, you expect that you might have to deal with some issues like water or a leak back up,” says Toppings co-owner Bryan Conley. “I never imagined, to this extent, we’d end up with a basement full of water.”
Conley also did not opt for flood insurance, a separate policy. He’s been working with his insurance agent to figure out what can be covered under their current policy.
“We’re doing a lot of the all out cleanup ourselves but when it comes down to the washing and sanitizing sterilizing, I’ve got some pros coming in,” says Conley.
While the clean-up crews work, the business is closed. It means a loss of business and income on top of other expenses incurred.
“It definitely helps to build the anxiety,” says Conley. “You’re not just dealing with the problem or the economics/finances of the problem, but we’re also closed for business. They talk about hemorrhaging money. That’s really what it feels like. ”
Conley says there is so much up in the air, and there’s a grey area as to whether the city can help private businesses or homeowners.
City staff conducted assessments of public infrastructure and met with local and state emergency management officials on May 12. That same day, Mayor Frederick Guenther declared a local state of emergency.
Hemlock Street between Michigan Avenue and State Street is closed for repairs. Bridges on Mitchell Street and Pine Street will be reopened after they are deemed safe by bridge engineer assessments.
Any businesses or individuals that have flood damage as a result of the storm are asked to report it .