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Dam failures, flooding create emergency in Midland County, thousands evacuating

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

This is a developing story. It will be updated with new information as we receive it. Please check back.

Update: Wednesday, May 20, 12:48 a.m.

The city of Midland is bracing for the worst.A pair of dam failures, fueled by up to eight inches of rain this week, have swelled the Tittabawassee River. The river flows through the city’s center.

Midland City Manager Brad Kaye says the flood could leave part of the city under nine feet of water.

“The 1986 flood that most people remember, that were here at least, or if you weren’t here, you certainly heard about it, was a 100-year flood. What we’re looking at is an event that is the equivalent of a 500-year flood,” says Kaye.

Midland has evacuated 10,000 people, along with patients in the city’s hospital. Residents of Sanford, Edenville and other communities have also been forced from their homes.

Original post: Tuesday, May 19, 10:30 p.m.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency for Midland County after the Edenville and Sanford Dams were breached.

The breaches were caused by several days of rainfall and rising water and have forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people in mid-Michigan.

For the second time in less than 24 hours, families living along two lakes and a river were ordered Tuesday night to leave home.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for locations along the Tittabawassee River after the breach at the Edenville Dam in Midland County. Emergency responders went door-to-door early Tuesday warning residents of the rising water. Some were able to return home, only to be told to leave again following the dam's breach.

The evacuations in Michigan followed days of heavy rains in parts of the Midwest that also brought flooding to Chicago and other parts of Illinois, Ohio and other states.

“If you have not evacuated the area, do so now and get somewhere safe,” said Whitmer during a 10 p.m. press conference. “This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County. If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now. If you don’t, go to one of the shelters that have opened across the county. I want to thank the emergency responders, Michigan National Guard members, and the Michigan State Police on the ground helping residents evacuate. Stay safe, and take care of each other.”

Shelters have opened across Midland County and are available to residents who need a place to go. Shelters remain open until further notice at: 

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

“We have remained engaged with Midland County officials as the situation has progressed,” said Capt. Kevin Sweeney, deputy state director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and commander of the MSP/EMHSD. “We will continue to partner with the county to ensure they receive the needed resources to respond and recover from this incident.”
A number of street closures remain in effect throughout Midland County and the City of Midland. Residents are advised to obey all road closure signs and to stay clear of standing water, flooded areas, and floating debris. Residents should not attempt to drive or walk through any standing water, and should take extra precaution where electrical items may be submerged.  

Those seeking more information on shelters, road closures, and updates, can visit Midland911.org.

*This post has been updated to reflect that the shelter at Meridian Junior High School has closed.

Michigan Radio listeners, readers, and reporters are rising to the challenge every day. If you can, please support essential journalism during this crisis.

Vincent Duffy has been news director at Michigan Public since May 2007.
Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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