Thousands evacuated as river dams break in central Michigan

MIDLAND, Michigan (AP) – Rapid rising water has hit dams and forced the evacuation of some 10,000 people in central Michigan, where floods have hit communities along streams and the governor said a city center may be "under approximately 9 feet of water" Until Wednesday.

For the second time in less than 24 hours, families living along the Tittabawassee River and connected lakes in Midland County were ordered out of the house Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, water several meters high covered some streets near the river in downtown Midland, including a riverside park, and reached a hotel and parking lots.

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The National Meteorological Service urged anyone near the river to look for higher ground after "castastrophic dam failures" at Edenville Dam, about 225 miles north of Detroit, and at Sanford Dam, 11 kilometers below the river.

Michigan Governor Gretchen said the center of Midland, a city 42,000 to 14 kilometers downstream from the Sanford Dam, faced an especially serious flood threat. Dow Chemical Co.'s main plant is on the city's waterfront.

"In the next 12 to 15 hours, Midland city center may be under 3 meters of water," said the governor during a briefing late on Tuesday. "We are predicting a historic high water level."

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Further down, on the Tittabawassee River, Saginaw County communities were on alert for flooding, with a flood watch on Wednesday.

Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County and urged residents threatened by the floods to find a place to stay with friends or relatives or to look for one of the many shelters they have opened across the county. She encouraged people to do everything possible to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such as wearing a face covering and observing social distance "in the best way possible".

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"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."

Emergency crews went door-to-door early Tuesday morning, warning residents who lived near the Edenville dam due to rising water. Some residents managed to return home, only to be ordered to leave again after the dam breach, several hours later. Evacuations include the cities of Edenville, Sanford and parts of Midland, according to Selina Tisdale, a spokesman for Midland County.

"We were back home and started to feel comfortable with the fact that things were calming down," said Catherine Sias, who lives about a mile from the Edenville Dam and left for the first time in the morning. Tuesday. "Suddenly, we heard the sirens of the fire trucks going north, towards the dam."

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Sias, 45, said emergency alerts started popping up on her cell phone and people started calling to make sure she was safe.

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"While packing, there were tons of police and fire trucks going up and down the roads," he added. "As far as I know, all of our neighbors have left."

While driving on the M-30 jammed, the state highway that is the main road that runs through Edenville and across the river to the north of the city, Sias saw the Tittabawassee river in a hurry. "It was very dramatic, very fast and full of debris," she said.

Dow Chemical has activated its emergency operations center and will adjust operations as a result of current flood stage conditions, spokeswoman Rachelle Schikorra said in an email.

"Dow Michigan Operations is working with its Midland county tenants and employees and will continue to closely monitor water levels in the Tittabawassee River," said Schikorra.

In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulation 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 withstand the most severe floods reasonably possible in the area.

The Edenville dam, built in 1924, was classified under unsatisfactory conditions in 2018 by the state. The Sanford Dam, built in 1925, received a fair condition rating.

Both dams are in the process of being sold.

There were 19 high-risk dams in unsatisfactory or poor conditions in Michigan in 2018, ranking 20th among 45 states and Puerto Rico for which the Associated Press obtained condition assessments.

The flood warnings in Michigan have been issued after a widespread 10.2 to 17.8 cm rain since Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Heavy runoff raised rivers.

The Tittabawassee River was 9.3 meters high and rose on Tuesday night – the flood stage is 7.3 meters. It was expected to peak on Wednesday with a record 11.6 meters.

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