GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Mayor George Heartwell declared the city of Grand Rapids in a state of emergency as of 1 p.m. Saturday after an assessment of flood waters and any potential infrastructure damage in the city.
Heartwell said he declared the state of emergency for the next week because of the threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, and loss of life or property that the flooding brings. Declaring a state of emergency means the city may be eligible for state and/or federal funding should a disaster occur.
"Its purpose is anticipatory," said Heartwell. "We want to be sure if should something unforeseen happens, for example if we got more rain Tuesday through Friday than we're anticipating now, we might need to turn to the state for help."
He stressed there is "no reason to panic."
"The problem that we've got, I don't want to downplay it; it's serious, and people all over this city are being inconvenienced, and property is being damaged as a result of groundwater coming up, and sewers backing up across the city," said Heartwell. "It is a problem, but it isn't a disaster. Should a flood wall breach -- in other words -- if it began to crumble, and the flood waters rushed through, and rushed up into the downtown, or rushed into the West side, I mean that would be a disaster for us. There would be significant loss of property, and even the potential loss of life. We are no where near that."
As of noon Saturday, the Grand River was measured at 21.03 feet. Flood stage is 18 feet. Flooding has occurred on public and private property and within local streets, right-of-ways and a variety of locations within the city.
The river is expected to crest at 22.7 feet on Sunday -- a downgrade from an earlier forecast of just below 25 feet.
"The important thing to remember is just be safe. Take precautions," Heartwell said. "Stay away from the river. If you're going to view it, view it from a high point. Don't go close."
Officials said they remain "confident" in the height and stability of the 25-foot flood walls within the city. The water is not expected to break or flood over those walls.
However, since the Grand River is so full, officials said the ground water pressure has increased so much, it is actually bubbling up into the basements of downtown buildings.
Heartwell said the flooding of downtown building basements was one of the reasons he decided to declare the state of emergency on Saturday, when Friday he said it wasn't needed.
He cited fears for the flooded buildings' electric systems, as well as the electrical infrastructure of downtown as another reason for the declaration. Additional rain forecasted for Tuesday through Friday of next week was another deciding factor.
There is already water in the basements of three Grand Rapids buildings just along the river. The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and JW Marriott, though open, pumped thousands of gallons of water a minute from their basements, according to Adam Stegenga, the Field Manager for Dewind Dewatering, the company pumping water out of the basement of both the JW and the Amway Grand.
"In [The Amway Grand], it will probably be up to the ceiling in the basement, or higher," said Stegenga about the water. "And the JW, basically all the operating staff on that basement level would be full to the ceiling if [the pumps] didn't stay running."
Stegenga said the Amway did have two permanent pumps in the basement going constantly, but the rising waters overwhelmed the pair. He said water was coming in through cracks in the foundation in the older hotel. The problems the JW was experiencing though, he said, were because a building next door is flooded and spilling over into the other five star hotel.
"We do a lot of construction dewatering, as far as this flood stuff like this, I think everybody in Grand Rapids can say they've never seen the river this high," said Stegenga. "Mother Nature is an amazing thing sometimes."
Saturday morning, the Plaza Towers building was evacuated as flood waters entered the basement of the building. It's parking garage was completely under water.
The railroad bridge in downtown is low enough, authorities say, that it will likely be flooded over.
Due to high water, Riverside Park remains closed to pedestrian traffic.
If you see a manhole cover or sewer grate that has been compromised, you should call Grand Rapids' sewer maintenance facility at 616.456.3246. If you see flooded streets, Grand Rapids asks you to call 456.3232.
Heartwell also renewed the city's request for volunteers to help with filling sandbags that would primarily be used to protect the city's waste water treatment facility. He asked volunteers to show up starting at 8 a.m. Sunday at 201 Market Street in Grand Rapids.
Residents are also asked to reduce unnecessary water use -- like avoiding running the dishwasher or doig the laundry -- to ease stress on the city's already taxed water system.
Shelters have been set up in Kentwood
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