Flooding forces evacuations in more Michigan communities

Michigan

In this Wednesday, May 20, 2020, photo, people survey the flood damage to the Curtis Road Bridge in Edenville, Mich., over the Tittabawassee River. (Neil Blake/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (AP) — More Central Michigan riverside residents evacuated their homes Friday after being overwhelmed by flooding from two failed dams that submerged communities further upstream earlier this week, authorities said.

About a dozen people who live near the Tittabawassee River in Spaulding Township have evacuated, but some in the community refused to leave their homes despite warnings, Fire Chief Tom Fortier said Friday morning.

Fields and roads were under several feet of water, resembling wide, shallow lakes. Water stood 2 to 3 feet deep in some houses where the owners decided to stick out the flooding, Fortier said.

The Tittabawassee became engorged late Tuesday when the aging Edenville and Sanford dams failed after heavy rain. The river crested Wednesday in Midland — about 20 miles upstream from Spaulding Township — leaving the small city and surrounding areas under several feet of water and forcing about 11,000 people to evacuate their homes.

A number of homes in Midland were damaged, but no injuries or fatalities were reported. Officials were not keeping track of how many people have returned home.

“We’ve cleared all to return if they are able to do so safely,” Selina Tisdale, a spokeswoman for Midland, said Friday.

With the slow recession of water in the Midland area, the focus has shifted to damage assessment, cleanup and rebuilding.

Glenn Hart’s home in Hope Township, about 16 miles north of Midland, escaped the brunt of the flooding. But on Friday, the 66-year-old was removing debris from his property, including kayaks, boats and pieces of docks.

“I’m trying to find who this belongs to, to make sure people get their stuff,” he said.

He will be without natural gas for at least two weeks, but Hart has an electric water heater in a barn that escaped damage.

“Everybody is coming to my house to take a shower,” he said.

President Donald Trump signed an emergency declaration Thursday authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Dow Chemical Co. is headquartered in Midland and it has a plant next to the river. The company’s imprint is clear throughout the city.

When the river crested, the floodwaters mixed with containment ponds at the Dow plant and the company admitted the flooding could displace sediment from a downstream Superfund site, though it said there was no risk to people or the environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said state officials would evaluate the plant and that Dow must to assess the Superfund site — contaminated with dioxins the company dumped in the last century — to determine if any contamination was released.

On Friday, Dow and its foundation announced a $1 million donation for flood recovery efforts.

Dow said $250,000 will go to an assistance fund to help Dow employees directly hit by the flooding and $250,000 will go to the United Way to provide resources for Midland County families affected by the flooding. Another $500,000 will be allocated for needs that surface throughout the recovery and rebuilding phase.

“We are working closely with our Dow colleagues, local business and nonprofit partners, and government officials to recover, rebuild and move forward even stronger together,” said Jim Fitterling, Dow’s chair and chief executive officer.

Midland City Manager Brad Kaye warned Thursday that it could take four or five days for the floodwaters to recede.

The flooded Tittabawassee and Shiawassee rivers flow into the Saginaw River, and that’s presenting a danger for Spaulding Township, about 100 miles north of Detroit. Fortier, the Spaulding Township fire chief, said the excess flow was bottle-necking in the Saginaw and pushing back into his community.

“The river levels are so high, they are trying to find the lowest spot and that happens to be us,” he said.

The National Guard and fire departments have been filling about 3,000 sandbags to hold some of the water back, but in some areas it is still 4 to 5 feet deep, Fortier said.

Wixom Lake in Midland County’s Hope Township lost most of its water when the nearly century-old Edenville Dam failed. The dam has been the target of lengthy investigations by federal regulators.

Officials have said the Sanford Dam, built in 1925, was overflowing during the flooding but that the extent of structural damage wasn’t yet known.

>>Online: Interactive map of state-regulated dams

With more rain forecast early next week, officials are keeping their eyes on the skies and the ground.

“With the area being so wet, any added rain is a concern,” said Nick Assendelft, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

Water levels on two lakes — Secord and Smallwood — behind two other dams “have been brought down somewhat to take pressure off those facilities so their conditions can be assessed,” Assendelft said. “The last thing we need now is for there to be another rain event anywhere close to what we had earlier this week.”

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