A rain-swollen river has flooded fields and streets in parts of mid-Michigan after breaching two dams, forcing evacuation orders for thousands amid a coronavirus pandemic that’s posing safety challenges Wednesday for officials trying to provide shelter.
The worst may be yet to come. Downtown Midland, a city of about 41,000 people downstream of the dams, could eventually be “under approximately 9 feet of water” on Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.
“If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now,” Whitmer said Tuesday night. “If you don’t, go to one of the shelters that have opened across the county.”
“This is a particularly dangerous situation. Seek higher ground now!” the National Weather Service said Wednesday morning in a flash flood warning statement.
The Tittabawassee River breached the Edenville and Sanford dams north of Midland on Tuesday evening after days of heavy rain. By Wednesday morning, fields and roads in Midland County were virtual lakes, lapping up against businesses and homes.
Evacuation orders are in effect for about 3,500 homes and 10,000 people, Mark Bone, chairman of the Midland County Board of Commissioners, said he believes.
In Midland, the river Wednesday morning already was 6 feet above major flood stage and past the previous record of 33.89 feet, set in 1986.
At that height alone, the river will be flooding many homes, according to the National Weather Service. And it will get higher — the river could crest at 38 feet Wednesday evening, according to the service’s advanced hydrologic prediction service.
About 150 residents — many with walkers or riding in wheelchairs — evacuated Tuesday evening from Riverside Place, a senior residence in Midland, CNN affiliate WJRT reported.
The scene wasn’t easy to watch, said Toni Mclennan, a maintenance technician who checked the complex to make sure everyone was out.
Mclennan felt “sadness” and “the hope that they come back,” she told the station. “I mean, especially with this pandemic and you’re getting people in close quarters, it’s probably that much more scary.”
With the coronavirus pandemic months underway, officials in the county are juggling two public safety crises at once. Shelters have been established, and flood evacuees are being screened for the illness.
The governor declared an emergency for the flooding, and said previous orders relating to the coronavirus crisis are locally suspended if they impede emergency responses for the flooding.
Midland, about a 130-mile drive northwest of Detroit, is home to the Dow Chemical Co.
Officials are giving health screenings and distributing masks at shelters
No deaths or injuries have been reported, Bone said.
Teams are trying to give health screenings to people arriving at shelters, Bone said, and emergency personnel have plenty of personal protective equipment and are wearing masks.
Masks are available for everyone entering the shelters, he said.
Residents should “seek higher ground” as far east and west of the Tittabawassee River as possible, according to the city of Midland’s website.
Whitmer acknowledged Tuesday that confronting the flooding “in the midst of a global pandemic is almost unthinkable.”
“Please, to the best of your ability, continue to wear a face covering when you go to a shelter or go stay with a friend or relative,” Whitmer said.
The Michigan Army National Guard is on site, with 100 soldiers doing inspections around the area, Whitmer said.
MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland said it was not evacuating.
“We have been working alongside local agencies, watching closely the rapid changes that have been occurring due to the flooding,” said Greg Rogers, the president, in a news release.
“We have transferred a few patients that were identified by their physician. We have no current plans to evacuate.”
The hospital said it has made improvements to protect the hospital since the flood of 1986, which include a FEMA-approved flood wall located on medical center property and generators built above the flood plain.