Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site

Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
Dan Dionne looks over his former deck outside his home, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Floodwaters surging through Central Michigan on Wednesday were mixing with containment ponds at a Dow Chemical Co. plant and could displace sediment from a downstream Superfund site, though the company said there was no risk to people or the environment.

Dow said the ponds held only water, and it has detected no chemical releases from the plant in Midland where the company was founded, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said state officials would evaluate the plant when they're able. Once the flooding recedes, Dow will be required to assess the Superfund site—contaminated with dioxins the company dumped in the last century—to determine if any contamination was released, the EPA said.

Meanwhile, the Tittabawassee River crested at just over 35 feet (11 meters) in Midland, about 3 feet (90 centimeters) below the forecast level.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had warned that the city of 42,000 people could end up under 9 feet (2.7 meters) of water by Wednesday evening after floodwaters overtook two dams and forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people from their homes.

But the danger isn't over, and Midland officials asked that residents not return yet. The National Weather Service said communities farther downstream were bracing for flooding in the coming days.

Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
Flood waters tore through a house near the Curtis Road Bridge with its remains seen here on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville Township north of Midland. After two days of heavy rain, the Edenville Dam failed and flood waters rushed south, ravaging the landscape in its path. (Jake May/The Flint Journal, MLive.com via AP)

No injuries or fatalities related to the flooding have been reported, Midland spokeswoman Selina Tisdale said.

Residents near the river were urged to seek higher ground following what the National Weather Service called "catastrophic dam failures" at the Edenville Dam, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Midland, and the Sanford Dam, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) downriver.

Midland City Manager Brad Kaye said Wednesday that the Sanford Dam is overflowing but that the extent of structural damage isn't yet known.

If the entire dam structure were to fail, "there would be a much higher surge that will come down the river and that could raise the level much more quickly than what we're seeing right at the moment," Kaye said.

In nearby Edenville, Bob Yahrmarkt, 79, evacuated his home along the river on Tuesday afternoon. He said he couldn't believe what he saw when he returned Wednesday. "Just devastation," said Yahrmarkt.

Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
Damages on one of two North M-30 bridges on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville Township north of Midland. After two days of heavy rain, the Edenville Dam failed and flood waters rushed south, ravaging the landscape in its path. (Jake May/The Flint Journal, MLive.com via AP)

His garage, which housed tools and equipment he amassed over 70 years, was swept away. His home was heavily damaged by water: It has three levels—two beneath the main floor, which itself was more than a foot underwater.

"I'm looking at a sand pile and concrete where the garage was," Yahrmarkt said, noting that floodwaters also pushed his antique 1953 Ford sedan and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle around in his yard.

His neighbor, 58-year-old Dan Dionne, returned home to find everything beneath his home washed away.

"I never saw nothing like this," Dionne said. "We had a flood before, but nothing like this. It's like someone picked up my garage and shook it. There's a freezer, refrigerator in my backyard. I don't know where it's from."

The river topped a previous record of 33.9 feet (10.3 meters) set in 1986, the National Weather Service said. Its flood stage is 24 feet (7.3 meters), and it had been expected to crest at about 38 feet (11.6 meters).

Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
Flood waters continue to rush through the path where the Edenville Dam once stood on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville Township north of Midland, Mich. After two days of heavy rain, the Edenville Dam failed and flood waters rushed south, ravaging the landscape in its path. (Jake May/The Flint Journal, MLive.com via AP)

Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County, and the towns of Edenville, Sanford and parts of Midland were evacuated, Tisdale, the Midland spokeswoman, said. Midland is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Detroit.

The governor said her office had been in touch with and would ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for support.

"This is an event unlike anything we've ever seen before," she said.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he was closely monitoring the situation and praised first responders. But he also took a jab at Whitmer, whom he has criticized for her stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus: "We have sent our best Military & @fema Teams, already there. Governor must now 'set you free' to help. Will be with you soon!"

Whitmer on Wednesday sent a letter to Trump requesting federal aid to address the flooding in Midland County. She said despite their efforts, local and state resources have been "insufficient to respond to the situation." Whitmer also noted the availability of equipment and personnel is further limited due to ``the ongoing effects and response requirements of the coronavirus pandemic."

Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
Firefighters launch a boat as the Tittabawassee River overflows, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Midland, Mich. People living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Trump will be in Michigan on Thursday for a visit to a Ford Motor plant in Ypsilanti.

The state has been a national hot spot for COVID-19, with more than 52,000 cases and 5,000 deaths, but Midland County has had fewer than 80 cases and under 10 deaths. Still, residents were advised to take precautions and schools set up as shelters spaced cots to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Whitmer said the state would investigate the operators of the dams and "pursue every line of legal recourse we have."

"The initial readout is that this was a known problem for a while and that's why its important that we do our due diligence," Whitmer said.

In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked Boyce Hydro's license to operate the Edenville Dam due to non-compliance issues that included spillway capacity and the inability to pass the most severe flood reasonably possible. That year, the state rated the dam, built in 1924, in unsatisfactory condition.

Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
Freeland resident Cyndi Ballien walks up to get a closer look as heavy rain floods North Gleaner Road near its intersection with Tittabawassee Road on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Saginaw County, Mich. People living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river were evacuated Tuesday following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)

The Sanford Dam, which was built in 1925, received a fair condition rating. Both are in the process of being sold.

The commission said it has directed Boyce Hydro to establish an independent investigation team to determine the cause of the damage to Sanford Dam, and that it would reach out to regarding the Edenville Dam. It will send an engineer to assist with the investigation when it's safe to do so.

Dow Chemical has been headquartered in Midland for more than 120 years, and its main plant sits on the city's riverbank. It is a quintessential company town: One high school is named after the company's founder, the other high school's mascot is the Chemics. A Dow foundation has funded many community amenities including a botanical garden, and the city is known for midcentury modern structures first introduced by architect Alden B. Dow.

Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
A view looking west on North Saginaw Road as the Tittabawassee River overflows, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Midland, Mich. People living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The company, with 9,000 employees and contractors in Midland, on Tuesday shut down all operating units except those needed to contain chemicals, spokesman Kyle Bandlow said. No chemical releases have been detected, he said.

But the flooding likely will pose a significant setback to the Superfund cleanup, said Allen Burton, a professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan. Dioxins released by Dow contaminated sediments and floodplains along 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers to Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay. The federal Superfund program investigates and cleans up toxic waste sites.

Dow and the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy will have to determine where the floodwaters have moved the dioxins, Burton said.

"They knew where all that stuff was, but the power of water is unbelievable and it's going to move things around," Burton said.

  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    The remains of the Edenville Dam, as seen on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville Township north of Midland. After two days of heavy rain, the Edenville Dam failed and flood waters rushed south, ravaging the landscape in its path. (Jake May/The Flint Journal, MLive.com via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Water engulfs a Swan Township driveway at the intersection of Trimm and Roosevelt roads as heavy rains flood Saginaw County, Mich., on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    A kayaker paddles out to check on a residence as the Tittabawassee River overflows, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Midland, Mich. People living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Sanford resident Clint Clark, 44, walks out into what was once the bottom of Wixom Lake after water washed out due to the failure of the Edenville Dam on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville Township north of Midland, Mich. (Jake May/The Flint Journal, MLive.com via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    People head to downtown Midland, Mich., to check out the flood level early Wednesday morning, May 20, 2020. (Katy Kildee/Midland Daily News via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    A nearly barren Wixom Lake stands dry after severe flooding forced the failure of Edenville Dam on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville Township north of Midland, Mich. (Jake May/The Flint Journal, MLive.com via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Volunteers assist evacuated residents at a temporary shelter at Midland High School, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Midland, Mich. (Katy Kildee/Midland Daily News via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Two MDOT employees survey the damage on one of two North M-30 bridges on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville Township north of Midland. After two days of heavy rain, the Edenville Dam failed and flood waters rushed south, ravaging the landscapre in its path. (Jake May/The Flint Journal, MLive.com via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Midland resident Ritu Patel communicates with family members on her cell phone at a temporary shelter at Midland High School, Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Midland, Mich. Patel was concerned because her husband had left the shelter to assess the flood damage to their home. (Katy Kildee/Midland Daily News via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    A search and rescue boat is deployed as Saginaw Road is closed at Drake due to water over the road while floodwater rises in Midland, Mich., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Katy Kildee/Midland Daily News via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Damages on one of two North M-30 bridges on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville Township north of Midland. After two days of heavy rain, the Edenville Dam failed and flood waters rushed south, ravaging the landscape in its path. (Jake May/The Flint Journal, MLive.com via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses members of the media and Midland County residents during a press conference at the temporary shelter at the school, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Midland, Mich. Whitmer spoke of response efforts to severe flooding caused by dam failures upstream of the Tittabawassee River. (Katy Kildee/Midland Daily News via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Kristi, who declined to provide her last name, holds up a sign as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses members of the media and Midland County residents during a press conference at the temporary shelter at Midland High School, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Midland, Mich. Whitmer spoke of response efforts to severe flooding caused by dam failures upstream of the Tittabawassee River. (Katy Kildee/Midland Daily News via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, right, walks a corridor at Midland High School before addressing members of the media and Midland County residents during a press conference at the temporary shelter at the school, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Midland, Mich. Whitmer spoke of response efforts to severe flooding caused by dam failures upstream of the Tittabawassee River. (Katy Kildee/Midland Daily News via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Members of Bob Yahrmarkt's family help pick up what is salvageable from his garage, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    People survey the damage on one of two North M-30 bridges on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville, Mich. After two days of heavy rain, the Edenville Dam failed and flood waters rushed south, ravaging the landscape in its path. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Damages are seen on one of two North M-30 bridges on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville, Mich. After two days of heavy rain, the Edenville Dam failed and flood waters rushed south, ravaging the landscape in its path. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Debris litters the riverbank behind Dan Dionne's home, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Dan Dionne points to where the water level was next looks to his home, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Heart Breaker, Bob Yahrmarkt's vintage Ford rests in front of his home, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Bob Yahrmarkt, right, stands on his washed out driveway next to his home, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Bob Yahrmarkt, right, stands on his washed out driveway looking at his destroyed garage, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Bob Yahrmarkt, right, stands on his washed out driveway looking at his destroyed garage, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Dan Dionne looks over his former deck outside his home, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Dan Dionne looks over his former deck outside his home, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Edenville, Mich. Some people living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area returned to the area to survey the damage. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    A look at the Sanford Dam on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. After the Edenville Dam failed and the Tittabawassee River flooded surrounding areas, many residents were urged to leave their homes and to brace themselves for the possibility of the Sanford Dam collapsing. Water flowed over the top of it through the night, but the structure is still in place. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    A house is under water near the Sanford Dam on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. After the Edenville Dam failed and the Tittabawassee River flooded surrounding areas, many residents were urged to leave their homes and to brace themselves for the possibility of the Sanford Dam to collapsing. Water flowed over the top of it through the night, but the structure is still in place. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    A look at the debris collected at the Sanford Dam on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. After the Edenville Dam failed and the Tittabawassee River flooded surrounding areas, many residents were urged to leave their homes and to brace themselves for the possibility of the Sanford Dam collapsing. Water flowed over the top of it through the night, but the structure is still in place. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    A view of the flooded area near the Sanford Dam on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Residents were told to evacuate due to the dams on Sanford and Wixom Lakes no longer being able to control or contain the amount of water flowing through the spill gates. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    A look at the Sanford Dam on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. After the Edenville Dam failed and the Tittabawassee River flooded surrounding areas, many residents were urged to leave their homes and to brace themselves for the possibility of the Sanford Dam collapsing. Water flowed over the top of it through the night, but the structure is still in place. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    A look at the Sanford Dam on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. After the Edenville Dam failed and the Tittabawassee River flooded surrounding areas, many residents were urged to leave their homes and to brace themselves for the possibility of the Sanford Dam to collapsing. Water flowed over the top of it through the night, but the structure is still in place. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    This photo provided by Maxar Technologies shows homes and other buildings surrounded by floodwaters in Midland, Mich., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    People walk around to check out the damage near the Sanford Dam on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. After the Edenville Dam failed and the Tittabawassee River flooded surrounding areas, many residents were urged to leave their homes and to brace themselves for the possibility of the Sanford Dam to collapsing. Water flowed over the top of it through the night, but the structure is still in place. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    This photo provided by Maxar Technologies shows Northwood University surrounded by floodwaters in Midland, Mich., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    This photo provided by Maxar Technologies shows the flooded Tittabawassee River around the areas in Midland, Mich., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    People photograph the floodwaters of the Tittabawassee River that encroached on downtown Midland, Mich., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Floodwaters have overtaken dams and forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people from communities in central Michigan. Families living along the Tittabawassee River and connected lakes in Midland County were ordered to leave home Tuesday evening, the second time in less than 24 hours. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Volunteers assist evacuated Midland residents at a temporary shelter at Midland High School, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Midland, Mich. Floodwaters have overtaken dams and forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people from communities in central Michigan. Families living along the Tittabawassee River and connected lakes in Midland County were ordered to leave home Tuesday evening, the second time in less than 24 hours. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Cars are scattered and tipped over in downtown Sanford, Mich. after flooding along the Tittabawassee River on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Daniel Mears/ The Detroit News via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Don Thomas of Saginaw pulls his boat up to his son Jason Thomas who went back to his house near W. Signet in Midland to retrieve his families two cats. "We were going to do just ours but everyone else was in the same situation" comments Don Thomas after taking several families to their flooded homes to retrieve their family pets. Jason Thomas, "You are a hero dad! You saved 6 cats today." Flooding along the Tittabawassee River in downtown Midland, Mich. on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Daniel Mears/ The Detroit News via AP)
  • Michigan flood displaces thousands, threatens Superfund site
    Don Thomas rows Nick Maki , left, and son Jason Thomas past Jason's red 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee, barely visible above the flooding, after picking up Jason's two family cats from his flooded home in Midland. Jason Thomas said, "We walked out last night, me, my wife and three kids. Other than the pictures put up high or upstairs, everything else is gone." Breached dams further up the Tittabawassee River flooded downtown Midland, Mich. on Wednesday May 20, 2020. (Daniel Mears/ The Detroit News via AP)

The Weather Service issued flood warnings because 4 to 7 inches (10.2 to 17.8 centimeters) of rain has fallen since Sunday. Heavy runoff pushed rivers higher. This coming Saturday, there's a 30% chance of rain, with more moving into the area Sunday and Monday.

"It's going to continue downriver," Sara Pampreen, a weather service meteorologist, said. "Just exactly how much, that's the question."


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Thousands evacuate due to 'historic' mid-Michigan flooding

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