WASHINGTON:A Michigan county is in a state of emergency after two dams burst. Record rain over the region put pressure on the Edenville and Sanford Dams northwest of Detroit, causing failure and sending “catastrophic” floods downstream. Thousands of residents in Midland County are being evacuated in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.
The problems began at the Edenville Dam, which was breached first. From there, floodwaters hit the Sanford Dam downstream, creating a widespread disaster. The floodwaters are working their way through the Tittabawassee River system and causing widespread flooding in cities and towns downstream. So far, no deaths have been reported, but the floods have affected at least 10,000 people and 3,500 homes. In Edenville, Michigan—which sits in the shadows of the busted Edenville Dam—floodwaters have left only roofs visible. Onlookers also shared footage with ABC of an entire home floating through the murky floodwaters.
Whitmer said Tuesday that parts of the city of Midland, located further downstream, may be under 9 feet of water by Wednesday morning. The river itself is forecasted to crest on Wednesday at 38 feet in the city. The floodwaters have already risen past the river’s previous record high of 33.9 feet set in 1986. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the entire stretch of river in Midland County and called the floods “catastrophic.”
Officials are urging residents in the area to head to shelters or the homes of family or friends. Social distancing, of course, complicates these efforts. Households that have been staying safely at home will now have to potentially expose themselves to the highly contagious virus in order to stay clear of the floodwaters. The shelters are reportedly offering masks to evacuees.
To make things worse, the headquarters of Dow Chemical Company is directly downstream of all this flooding, including a Superfund site with cancer-causing chemicals. The company said in a Facebook statement that it had “activated its local emergency operations center.” As part of its plan, Dow has shut down operating units on-site. A spokesperson told Bloomberg that Dow is working to develop a proper response with DuPont and Corteva Agriscience, more chemical companies with operations on site. Should floodwaters reach and breach this facility, the situation would become an even more urgent public health crisis.
The floods were sparked by record rains, the likes of which are becoming more common due to climate change and the simple fact that warmer atmosphere can hold more water. In the Midwest, heavy downpours have increased 37 percent since the 1950s. Midland received 4.7 inches of rain over a 36-hour period between Monday and Tuesday. Many locations in the area, including Flint and Detroit, set a daily rainfall records on Tuesday as well. The extra rain is likely what caused the dams to fail.
( Image: A pilot captured aerial footage of a dam failure in Michigan. )