GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The City of Grand Rapids is preparing for possible serious flooding as the Grand River rose to 18.2 feet Thursday and then 20.7 feet Friday afternoon
That crest -- which would be a record high -- would cause major flooding of residential areas, according to the National Weather Service and impact the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Inside woodtv.com: Downtown GR flooding photos
"It's less water than Noah experienced, but it's more than we've seen for a very, very long time. My lifetime," said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
Despite the predicted record crest, the river is not expected to exceed the city's 25-foot flood walls. But the City anticipates having only about 9 inches to spare.
Though the City is not declaring a state of emergency, it is preparing for the worst and treating this as an "all hands on deck" situation, Heartwell said. All employee leaves have been canceled. The city's emergency center has also been activated.
The first priority is protecting the Wastewater Treatment Plant, which serves eight other communities on top of Grand Rapids itself.
"We've taken particular precautions with the wastewater treatment plant," said Heartwell.
Officials began filling 5,000 sand bags at the Plant Thursday night to put them on top of the flood wall -- or in the very worst case scenario, around the Plant itself. They are attempting to prevent a worse-case scenario.
Heavy equipment was used Thursday to build dirt levees around the main sewage treatment plant to stop flooding. If high water takes out critical electrical equipment there, the Plant might be shut down for days. And according to the mayor, that could create a serious health problem.
"Depending on the extent of the damage, it could be down for days, and then you start to worry about the public health hazards that could come when you don't have an operating sewer system," said Heartwell.
The sand supply had already been dumped at the garage Thursday and city workers filled sandbags.
Volunteers are needed to help make and set sand bags at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and residents can sign up to do so here. Those wishing to help should meet at 660 Market Ave. SW.
Standby volunteers will also be needed for Saturday in case more sand bags are needed.
Anyone who sees flooding is asked to report it at 616.456.3232.
There have already been effects of the heavy rains experienced in recent days.
About 200 people were evacuated Thursday night from Park Place Apartments on Marshall Avenue SE near 28th Street and Eastern Avenue, which was under water from Plaster Creek. Residents are being taken from the complex via boat and were transported via Rapid buses to an American Red Cross shelter.
Houses in the area of Briggs Boulevard and Elmdale Street NE were surrounded by water. There was not an official evacuation, but many people left as houses flooded.
"Personally I've never seen it flood this big, but it's pretty big," said Cindy Moore, a grandmother rescued from her home in a boat pulled by her grandson. "I'm going to have to wait until the water goes down. And then he can bring me back."
Neighbors helped each other gather belongings from homes.
"You just never know what the Grand River is going to do," said one man called Papa John.
Rob Diaz has lived in the area for 30 years and has never seen the river rise so high. And it's likely to get worse.
"It's just part of nature. It's part of life. You just put up with it and you wouldn't trade it because people love living near the river," he said.
And Thursday morning, City truck had to park on top of manhole covers in the area of Michigan Street and Fuller Avenue NE to prevent them from floating away.
Grand Rapids police were called to the Grand River downtown Thursday afternoon after a surfer was spotted just south of the fish ladder. GRPD ordered him out of the water.
City Hall was struck by lightning early Thursday morning, causing some Internet and phone outages, but everything was back in operation by the afternoon.
Drivers are warned to not drive through standing water. The City advises that roads on which the asphalt is not visible should not be driven though.
Residents are asked to avoid using water if possible and are asked to keep an eye on their neighbors.
24 Hour News 8's Marlee Ginter and Henry Erb contributed to this story.
Vehicles occupied by a sheriff's deputy and a Michigan State Police motor carrier officer were hit.
A fire damaged three garages and some homes in a Grand Haven neighborhood early Thursday morning.
The suspects stole cash and fled the scene.