Midland is expected to be under nine feet of water by Wednesday.
EDENVILLE, Mich. (AP) — When it rains, it pours in Michigan. Some 10,000 mid-Michiganders are now urged to evacuate their homes in the middle of the pandemic after this week’s rains overtook dams and flooded their neighborhoods.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at least one of the hardest-hit areas could be “under approximately 9 feet of water” by Wednesday.
It’s the second time in less than 24 hours that families living along the Tittabawassee River and connected lakes in Midland County were ordered to leave home.
The National Weather Service urged anyone near the river to seek higher ground following “catastrophic dam failures” at the Edenville Dam, about 140 milesnorth of Detroit, and the Sanford Dam, about seven miles downriver.
Gov. Whitmer said downtown Midland, a city of 42,000 about eight miles downstream from the Sanford Dam, faced an especially serious flooding threat. Dow Chemical Co.’s main plant sits on the city’s riverbank.
“We are anticipating an historic high water level,” Whitmer said.
A State of Emergency in Midland
Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County and urged residents threatened by the flooding to find a place to stay with friends or relatives or to seek out one of several shelters that opened across the county. She encouraged people to do their best to take precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as wearing a face covering and observing social distancing “to the best of your ability.”
“This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County,” she said. ”If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now.”
For some residents, evacuating to a family member’s house in the middle of the pandemic is not an option.
For those who are unable to seek refuge with family, Whitmer urged them to seek help at a local shelter set up.
Here’s where they are operating:
- Midland High School at 1301 Eastlawn,
- Meridian Junior High School at 3475 N. Meridian Road,
- Bullock Creek High School at 1420 S. Badour,
- and the West Midland Family Center at 4011 W Isabella.
“We have remained engaged with Midland County officials as the situation has progressed,” said Capt. Kevin Sweeney, deputy state director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and commander of the MSP/EMHSD. “We will continue to partner with the county to ensure they receive the needed resources to respond and recover from this incident.”
Those seeking more information on shelters, road closures, and updates, visit Midland911.org.
A number of street closures remain in effect throughout Midland County and the City of Midland. Residents are advised to obey all road closure signs and to stay clear of standing water, flooded areas, and floating debris. Residents should not attempt to drive or walk through any standing water, and should take extra precaution where electrical items may be submerged.
Emergency responders went door-to-door early Tuesday morning warning residents living near the Edenville Dam of the rising water. Some residents were able to return home, only to be told to leave again following the dam’s breach several hours later. The evacuations include the towns of Edenville, Sanford and parts of Midland, according to Selina Tisdale, spokeswoman for Midland County.
“We were back at home and starting to feel comfortable that things were calming down,” said Catherine Sias, who lives about one mile from the Edenville Dam and first left home early Tuesday morning. “All of a sudden we heard the fire truck sirens going north toward the dam.”
Sias, 45, said emergency alerts then began coming on her cellphone and people started calling to make sure she was safe.
“While packing, there were tons of police and fire trucks going up and down the roads,” she added. “As far as I know, all of our neighbors got out.”
While driving along a jammed M-30, the state highway that’s the main road through Edenville and that crosses the river north of town, Sias saw the rushing Tittabawassee River. “It was very dramatic, very fast and full of debris,” she said.
Dow Chemical has activated its emergency operations center and will be adjusting operations as a result of current flood stage conditions, spokeswoman Rachelle Schikorra said in an email.
“Dow Michigan Operations is working with its tenants and Midland County officials and will continue to closely monitor the water levels on the Tittabawassee River,” Schikorra said.
In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the license of the company that operated the Edenville Dam due to non-compliance issues that included spillway capacity and the inability to pass the most severe flood reasonably possible in the area.
The Edenville Dam, which was built in 1924, was rated in unsatisfactory condition in 2018 by the state. The Sanford Dam, which was built in 1925, received a fair condition rating.
Both dams are in the process of being sold.
There were 19 high hazard dams in unsatisfactory or poor condition in Michigan in 2018, ranking 20th among the 45 states and Puerto Rico for which The Associated Press obtained condition assessments.
Flood warnings in Michigan were issued following widespread rainfall of 4-7 inches since Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Heavy runoff pushed rivers higher.
The Tittabawassee River was at 30.5 feet and rising Tuesday night – flood stage is 24 feet. It was expected to crest Wednesday morning at a record of about 38 feet.
The heavy rains early in the week also caused flooding elsewhere in the region. In Chicago, water that flooded some areas downtown was receding Tuesday, but Larry Langford, a fire department spokesman, said that he did not expect power to be restored at the iconic Willis Tower for days because the rains caused the building’s subbasements to fill with as much as 25 feet (7.6 meters) of water. The building was closed to tenants and visitors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.