‘ It’s dev­as­tat­ing’

Thou­sands of homes de­stroyed in cat­a­strophic Mich. flood

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Frank Wit­sil, Jeff Sei­del and Angie Jack­son

Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer

Up and down the river, Michi­gan­ders were drawn to the edge of the wa­ter out of cu­rios­ity. They stood on high ground and took pic­tures of the river, which was spilling through the town.

Most were not wear­ing face masks. There is lit­tle doubt Wed­nes­day that life has now got­ten much harder for an es­ti­mated 10,000 mid- Michi­gan res­i­dents who have homes that were de­stroyed in a record flood amid a pan­demic.

More­over, the costs to re­cover for cities like Mid­land, which were un­der­wa­ter, will be stag­ger­ing – and long- last­ing.

“The peo­ple of Michi­gan are able to rise up. We’re tough. We’re smart, and we care about each other.”

“What I can tell you, you’ve al­ready seen from the pic­tures,” Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer said Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in front of Mid­land High School af­ter tak­ing an aerial tour of the flood­ing. “It’s dev­as­tat­ing.”

In ad­di­tion to days of down­pours, two dams – Edenville and San­ford – in the cen­ter of Michi­gan’s Lower Peninsula overflowed, an is­sue that Whit­mer vowed that the state will be re­view­ing “every le­gal re­course that we have” be­cause the dam­age re­quires that we “hold peo­ple re­spon­si­ble.”

The tim­ing of the flood­ing is es­pe­cially pre­car­i­ous, com­ing amid a pan­demic that has taken the lives of more than 5,000 Michi­gan­ders and left about a third of the state’s work­force un­em­ployed.

About 130 Na­tional Guard sol­diers and more than 40 spe­cial­ized ve­hi­cles were dis­patched on Tues­day to help, with more than 200 more on the way.

Still, even as the flood­wa­ters con­tin­ued to rise to record lev­els and public officials tried Wed­nes­day to sort out the dam­age and figure out how to keep peo­ple safe amid a pan­demic, there was hope.

It had stopped rain­ing, the sun had come out, and no one had died.

And res­i­dents came to­gether to tra­verse treach­er­ous roads to de­liver shel­tered evac­uees food, and the gover­nor took a mo­ment in Mid­land dur­ing her other­wise se­ri­ous me­dia briefing to light­heart­edly re­mind ev­ery­one to keep their dis­tance.

Flood­wa­ters came quickly

And on top of that, there was the con­tin­u­ing po­lit­i­cal back­drop of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweet­ing both sup­port af­ter the flood­ing and threats to with­hold fund­ing for Michi­gan if state officials moved ahead with plans to send ab­sen­tee bal­lot ap­pli­ca­tions to every voter.

Trump is ex­pected to visit the state Thurs­day.

About 100 peo­ple slept at a shel­ter set up at Mid­land High, their cots and air mat­tresses spread across the bas­ket­ball floor. The beds were kept 6 feet apart be­cause of so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

A few peo­ple slept in their cars to avoid catch­ing coro­n­avirus.

In the shel­ter, peo­ple still had to main­tain so­cial dis­tanc­ing re­quire­ments. Ev­ery­body was re­quired to wear masks. Three vol­un­teers walked around the gym, con­tin­u­ously wip­ing down beds.

The Tit­tabawassee River in Mid­land en­tered ma­jor flood stage Tues­day when the river reached 28.25 feet at 10: 15 a. m., ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice. By that af­ter­noon, the Tit­tabawassee and the Rifle rivers hit ma­jor flood stage.

The Edenville Dam on the Tit­tabawassee River, which is owned by Boyce Hy­dro, failed Tues­day evening, and the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice warned to ex­pect flood­ing.

Wa­ter then went down­stream to San­ford Lake, spilling over San­ford Dam. It was un­clear how bad the dam­age was to San­ford Dam and whether it had breached or had just overflowed.

‘ We’re tough. We’re smart’

Mid­land, a city of 42,000, is about 8 miles down­stream from the San­ford Dam and faced an es­pe­cially se­ri­ous flood­ing threat. Dow Chem­i­cal Co.’ s main plant sits on the city’s river­bank.

By Wed­nes­day, Mid­land was at the cen­ter of the dam­age but not the only com­mu­nity reel­ing.

De­spite Wed­nes­day’s sun­shine, Mid­land City Manager Brad Kaye said, the flood­wa­ters con­tin­ued to rise through­out the day set­ting new records. He warned res­i­dents: “Don’t let up, don’t take it easy.”

He said the city had been through other storms and flood­ing, but, “we have never been through an event such as what we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing to­day.” He said that the sewer sys­tem had not held up, and there were power out­ages.

Up and down the river, peo­ple stared in awe at the ex­tent of the flood­ing.

“Down­town Mid­land hasn’t been this packed since all the coro­n­avirus stuff hit,” said David Reif, 29, of Mid­land.

He stood on high ground with Kris­ten Ger­sten­berger, 26, and they looked down at the Farm­ers Mar­ket, which was sub­merged.

“It’s up to the roof,” Reif said. “I don’t know if that is a 9- or 10- foot ceil­ing.”

Wed­nes­day, Trump posted his sup­port on Twit­ter for efforts to re­spond to flood­ing in mid- Michi­gan that has re­sulted in thou­sands of evac­u­a­tions.

“My team is closely mon­i­tor­ing the flood­ing in Cen­tral Michi­gan – Stay SAFE and lis­ten to lo­cal officials,” Trump posted about 10: 20 a. m. “Our brave First Re­spon­ders are once again step­ping up to serve their fel­low citizens, THANK YOU!”

He also said in a sep­a­rate post that his ad­min­is­tra­tion had al­ready ac­ti­vated mil­i­tary and Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency re­sponse teams, but added that Whit­mer – who Trump has crit­i­cized in the past – “must now ‘ set you free’ to help.”

Whit­mer added that she hopes that as a re­sult of the dire sit­u­a­tion, the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ment will be able to work quickly and cut through any red tape hold­ing it up.

Whit­mer said it was hard to be­lieve that Michi­gan­ders were in the midst of a 100- year cri­sis, a global pan­demic, and also deal­ing with cat­a­strophic flood­ing.

“But, you know what?” she added, “Here’s what I know: When the chips are down, the peo­ple of Michi­gan are able to rise up. We’re tough. We’re smart, and we care about each other.”

KELLY JORDAN AND JUNFU HAN/ USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Two dams failed af­ter days of rain, flood­ing Mid­land, Mich.

KIM­BERLY P. MITCHELL/ USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Vol­un­teers gather dona­tions and make beds for peo­ple who had to evac­u­ate be­cause of record- set­ting flood­ing.

KIM­BERLY P. MITCHELL/ USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Com­mu­nity vol­un­teers talk to evac­u­ated res­i­dents and gather dona­tions in Mid­land, Mich., af­ter the Edenville and San­ford dams failed, flood­ing the area. No deaths were re­ported.

Michi­gan Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer on Wed­nes­day sur­veys the shel­ter set up at Mid­land High School af­ter floods forced res­i­dents to evac­u­ate. STATE OF MICHI­GAN

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