‘Catastrophic’ flooding, evacuations in mid-Michigan as dams fail: What to know

Governor declares state of emergency in Midland County

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave an update Tuesday night regarding the state’s response to dam conditions and flooding in mid-Michigan. A breached dam caused by several days of rainfall and rising water has forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people in mid-Michigan.

DETROIT – About 10,000 people in mid-Michigan have been asked to evacuate their homes after multiple dams were breached, causing a major flooding emergency.

For the second time in less than 24 hours, families living along the Tittabawassee River and connected lakes in Midland County were ordered Tuesday evening to leave home. By Wednesday morning, water that was several feet high covered some streets near the river in downtown Midland, including riverside parkland, and reaching a hotel and parking lots.

The Weather Service urged anyone near the river to seek higher ground following “catastrophic dam failures” at the Edenville Dam, about 140 miles north of Detroit, and the Sanford Dam, about seven miles downriver. The evacuations come as Michigan remains under a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Sanford Dam has been breached, but has not broken. But damage in Sanford could already be seen.

The towns of Edenville, Sanford and parts of Midland have been evacuated, according to Selina Tisdale, spokeswoman for the city of Midland.

There have been no reported injuries or fatalities due to the flooding, and no reports of anyone trapped by the high water, Tisdale said Wednesday.

Here’s a look at Downtown Midland as of about 12 p.m. on Wednesday:

Downtown Midland under water as historic flooding event slams mid-Michigan

Michigan National Guard units from Bay City, Saginaw, Port Huron, and other nearby communities have responded to a request for assistance

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency in Midland County late Tuesday night, urging residents to see higher ground as water levels were rapidly rising.

Gov. Whitmer said Downtown Midland, a city of 42,000 about 8 miles downstream from the Sanford Dam, faced an especially serious flooding threat. Dow Chemical Co.'s main plant sits on the city’s riverbank.

Dow Chemical, with 9,000 employees and contractors in Midland, on Tuesday shut down all operating units except those needed to contain chemicals, spokesman Kyle Bandlow said. By Wednesday, floodwater was mixing with on-site containment ponds and the company and U.S. Coast Guard activated emergency plans, Dow said in a statement. Only essential staff was on site and no injuries have been reported, the company said.

Here’s video from the break of the Edenville Dam:

A breached dam caused by several days of rainfall and rising water has forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people in mid-Michigan.

“In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water," the governor said. "We are anticipating an historic high water level.”

“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."

The Tittabawassee River was at 30.5 feet (9.3 meters) and rising Tuesday night - flood stage is 24 feet (7.3 meters). It was expected to crest Wednesday morning at a record of about 38 feet (11.6 meters).

Emergency responders went door-to-door early Tuesday morning warning residents living near the Edenville Dam of the rising water. Some residents were able to return home, only to be told to leave again following the dam’s breach several hours later. The evacuations include the towns of Edenville, Sanford and parts of Midland, according to Selina Tisdale, spokeswoman for Midland County.

President Trump said he was offering assistance:

History of the dams

The Edenville Dam, which was built in 1924, was rated in unsatisfactory condition in 2018 by the state. The Sanford Dam, which was built in 1925, received a fair condition rating.

Both dams are in the process of being sold.

In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory 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 pass the most severe flood reasonably possible in the area.

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

LIST: Areas where residents must evacuate in mid-Michigan

Midland Township:

  • Residents on Ashby Road between Poseyville and Patterson

Larkin Township:

  • Residents east of M-30 on any streets between Price and Wackerly

Homer Township:

  • Residents on E. Wheeler and residents on N. Homer Road

Midland City:

  • Residents west of Eastman and South of US-10

Residents who must leave their homes can go to shelters at:

  • Midland High School at 1301 Eastlawn
  • Bullock Creek High School at 1420 S. Badour
  • West Midland Family Center at 4011 W Isabella

Edenville Dam map:

Sanford Dam map:

Tracking live updates from mid-Michigan

Local 4 has reporters on the scene with live updates and reports on Local 4 and ClickOnDetroit all day long. Follow the latest below, and feel free to ask questions. We’ll try our best to find answers.

About the Authors:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.