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'They're going to leave here and go to a hotel.' Flat rock residents come together to help their own

Posted at 11:28 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 23:28:47-04

FLAT ROCK, Mich. (WXYZ) — It's been a bumpy week and a half for the people of Flat Rock. More than 300 of them are living in hotels after a fuel spill made it unsafe to stay home.

Officials say a Ford assembly plant is to blame and the company has stepped in to try and help those displaced.

For the second day in a row, volunteers were set up at the local high school giving out gift cards. Meanwhile, state and federal agencies are still testing the area for benzene the main chemical of concern. It can be odorless, making it all the more dangerous.

More than half of the volunteers passing out gift cards are evacuees from the Flat Rock community, even though their lives have been uprooted they’re still finding time to help.

"It's very emotional. You know, these are my people, these are the people I've grown up with," said Mark Hammond, Mayor of Flat Rock, "generations of people."

Hammond hasn't got much sleep since news of a 1,400-gallon fuel spill broke in Flat Rock. He represents the interest of close to 10,000 people and many of them can't even return home.

Right now city, state, and federal agencies are trying to make sure their basic needs are met.

"That's why we are standing in the parking lot of a ball field because we know we can move a lot of people through here and meet their needs for these incidentals," said Hammond.

Courtesy of Ford, residents have been given hotel vouchers and target gift cards for food.

"It was a nice thought for them to consider the families and know that it is a concern and potentially disruptive," said Jessean Sutton, a resident of Flat Rock.

Sutton and her family chose not to evacuate, like many others living in zone 1 and 2. She says choosing to stay was a measured decision.

"I talked to my husband about it," said Sutton, "he did some reading and talked to some other people who were a little bit closer to the situation."

"It's really just a judgment call," she added.

The Environmental Protection (EPA) agency is in the process of testing 1,100 homes for toxic levels of benzene. Stacey Richardson is happy to say hers in the clear.

"They got there before I had to leave for work so I could go to work and have peace of mind that my animals were safe and that my home was okay," said Richardson.

There are still hundreds of residents in limbo wondering if their houses will be next.

Hammond says there's a lot of cooks in the kitchen when it comes to mitigating this situation, which means they aren't getting the information right away.

"We are going to answer those questions when we get the answers back from them on our web page and on our Facebook page," said Hammond, "any question that the residents have we are taking those in."

Meanwhile, the residents are trying to come together to help each other through what could be weeks and even months of uncertainty.

"They're going to leave here and go to a hotel, but they are serving those other residents that are in need," said Hammon, "that's the kind of community we got."

Gift card pick-up will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow near the baseball field at Flat Rock High.

Officials say there will also be another town hall at the Flat Rock community center on Tuesday. They say that's tentatively set for 7 p.m. and state and federal agencies have been invited to attend.