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Catastrophic Michigan Dam Failure Forces Thousands From Their Homes
Boat houses are being removed from flooded docks in Snows Channel at Les Cheneaux Islands in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on November 20, 2019. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Photo credit: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Thousands of Michigan residents are seeking shelter Wednesday after a catastrophic dam failure caused a major flooding emergency — and some residents could soon be under nine feet of water.

The Edenville and Sanford Dams, which control water flow around Midland, Michigan, a town towards the center of Michigan’s “mitten” and about 160 miles north and west of Detroit, collapsed Tuesday afternoon after the state saw record rainfall, forcing authorities to break coronavirus-related lockdowns and evacuate around 10,000 residents who live near the Tittabawassee River and other connected bodies of water.

“The Tittabawassee River was at 30.5 feet and rising Tuesday night — flood stage is 24 feet. The river rose another four feet by Wednesday morning, to 34.4 feet in Midland. According to the National Weather Service, the height has set a new record for the river, beating the previous record of 33.9 feet set during flooding in 1986,” CBS News reported Tuesday.

Authorities also said that the water could get as high as nine feet in some areas of Midland, including the city’s downtown, putting most of the area’s residents under water.

The incident is proving difficult for Michigan and its governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, who has been adamant about enforcing the state’s coronavirus-related stay-at-home order. Now, residents of Midland and surrounding areas must break quarantines and self-isolation to stay with friends and family or in designated emergency shelters until the water recedes.

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

“This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County,” she added, implying an emergency suspension of her lockdown orders. “If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now.”

The state is urging those who must seek shelter to continue to abide by whatever safety measures they can, to practice social distancing and wear a mask if possible. Shelters, serving those who have been evacuated, are struggling to place individuals and families at least six feet apart to prevent the spread of coronavirus as evacuees are already handling potentially major losses.

Midland residents say they’re shocked at the dam failure and are struggling to handle the flooding in addition to the ongoing pandemic.

“You gotta uproot and go amid everything else going on this year. This is pretty unreal,” one resident told local media.

Although it is not yet clear what led to the dam failure, the Detroit News reported early Wednesday that Federal officials “notified the [Edenville] dam’s previous owner as far back as 1999 that it needed to increase capacity of the Edenville dam’s spillways to prevent a significant flood from overcoming the structure.”

After what Federal authorities say was years of mismanagement and neglect, citations and violations, including “making unauthorized repairs, unauthorized earth moving, failure to file proper safety plans, failure to provide recreational areas and public access, failure to secure necessary property rights and failure to comply with water quality orders,” the dam’s owner finally agreed to a major, $100 million overhaul in 2019 — an overhaul that had yet to happen when the dam failed Tuesday.

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