Story at a glance

  • Two major dams in central Michigan were breached after heavy rain on Tuesday.
  • Thousands of residents have evacuated as floodwaters continue to rise.
  • The National Weather Service expects floodwater levels to peak on Wednesday night.

The worst of the flooding is not yet over for residents of central Michigan, where two dams burst on May 19, forcing thousands to evacuate

The National Weather Service has issued a flash-flood warning for areas near the Tittabawassee River, which reached 34.72 feet just before 9 a.m. on May 20, 10 feet above flood levels, and was still rising. The river is expected to crest 38 feet at 8 p.m. before subsiding. 

Residents of the area between the Edenville and Sanford Dams have begun evacuating and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County. There have been no reported deaths or injuries. 

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“If you have not evacuated the area, do so now and get somewhere safe,” said Gov. Whitmer in a release. “This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County. If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now. If you don’t, go to one of the shelters that have opened across the county. I want to thank the emergency responders, Michigan National Guard members, and the Michigan State Police on the ground helping residents evacuate. Stay safe, and take care of each other.”   

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The Dow Chemical Company headquarters in Midland were closed and units shut down on Wednesday, with only essential staff onsite to monitor the situation. Still, some are concerned about potential contamination of floodwaters spreading through the area. Dow confirmed to CNN that there were floodwaters "commingling with on-site containment ponds."

Four shelters have opened across the county, although social distancing will be difficult for many evacuated residents during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“A dam failure and flood during a pandemic is a worst-case scenario. The immediate focus must be on ensuring public health and safety,” said Bob Irvin, President and CEO of American Rivers, in a statement.

Four to seven inches of rain had fallen in the area on Sunday and Monday before the dams failed Tuesday. Regulators in 2018 had been concerned that the Edenville Dam was vulnerable to heavy flooding, the New York Times first reported, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked its license.

“This is not an isolated incident,” Irvin said. “Climate change is bringing more severe flooding, at a time when our nation's infrastructure is crumbling. It’s essential that we act now to invest in our rivers to protect public safety, improve our economy and strengthen our communities. This means shoring up necessary oversight and safety regulations, while also increasing funding for smart water infrastructure, including dam removal.”


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Published on May 20, 2020