Thousands of central Michigan residents forced to evacuate after 2 dams fail

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Thousands are under evacuation orders in mid-Michigan Wednesday morning, a dayafter two dams failed following heavy rain across the state.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency Tuesday night for Midland County after both the Edenville and Sanford dams breached and urged immediate evacuations.

“If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now,” she said. “If you don’t, go to one of the shelters that have opened across the county.”

Residents should “seek higher ground” as far east and west of the Tittabawassee River as possible, according to the city of Midland’s website.

“In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water,” Whitmer said Tuesday night in a news conference. “We are anticipating an historic high water level.”

The National Weather Service in Detroit said a flash flood emergency continues in Midland County through 7:30 a.m. ET Wednesday.

The Tittabawassee River set a record Wednesday morning, surging at Midland past the old mark of 33.89 feet, set in September 1986. The river still was rising, and is forecast to crest there around 38.00 feet by 8 a.m. ET before slowly receding.

10,000 people evacuating amid pandemic

About 3,500 homes and 10,000 people have so far been affected by the evacuation notices, Mark Bone, chairman of the Midland County Board of Commissioners, said he believes. No deaths or injuries have been reported, he said.

The timing of the dam breaches is especially difficult as officials are trying to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as people gather in the shelters that have been set up.

Teams are trying to screen people arriving at the shelters, Bone said, and emergency personnel have plenty of personal protective equipment and are wearing masks.

Masks are available for everyone going into the shelters, he said.

“To go through this in the midst of a global pandemic is almost unthinkable. But we are here, and to the best of our ability we are going to navigate this together,” Whitmer said.

Any emergency order issued in response to the coronavirus crisis has been suspended if it impedes with emergency response efforts, the governor’s declaration said.

“So please, to the best of your ability, continue to wear a face covering when you go to a shelter or go stay with a friend or relative,” Whitmer said.

The Michigan Army National Guard is on site, with 100 soldiers doing inspections around the area, Whitmer said.

MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland said it was not evacuating.

“We have been working alongside local agencies, watching closely the rapid changes that have been occurring due to the flooding,” said Greg Rogers, the president, in a news release.

“We have transferred a few patients that were identified by their physician. We have no current plans to evacuate.”

The hospital said it has made improvements to protect the hospital since the flood of 1986, which include a FEMA-approved flood wall located on medical center property and generators built above the flood plain.

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