MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) — Rapidly rising water overtook dams and forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people in central Michigan, where flooding struck communities along rain-swollen waterways and the governor said one downtown could be "under approximately 9 feet of water” by Wednesday.
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 National Weather Service urged anyone near the river to seek higher ground following "catastrophic dam failures” at the Edenville Dam, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of Detroit, and the Sanford Dam, about seven miles (11 kilometers) downriver.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said downtown Midland, a city of 42,000 about 8 miles (14 kilometers) downstream from the Sanford Dam, faced an especially serious flooding threat. Dow Chemical Co.’s main plant sits on the city’s riverbank.
"In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water,” the governor said during a late Tuesday briefing. "We are anticipating an historic high water level.”
Further down the Tittabawassee River, communities in Saginaw County were on alert for flooding, with a flash flood watch in effect Wednesday.
Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County and urged residents threatened by the flooding to find a place to stay with friends or relatives or to seek out one of several shelters that opened across the county. She encouraged people to do their best to take precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as wearing a face covering and observing social distancing "to the best of your ability.”
"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.”
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.