May 20, 2020 / 5:20 PM / 11 days ago

'Life-threatening' flood submerges central Michigan city after two dams breached

May 20 (Reuters) - Flood waters as high as five feet submerged parts of the city of Midland in central Michigan on Wednesday after heavy rain caused a swollen river to overflow its banks and breach two nearby dams, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

The National Weather Service (NWS) warned of “life-threatening” flooding as water levels of the Tittabawassee River in Midland, about 120 miles northwest of Detroit, reached historic levels and were expected to continue rising.

“Never in my whole life have we seen the dam fail,” said Mark Bone, 53, a business owner and resident of the city of Midland. “It flood real bad in ‘86, but never like this.”

Bone, who also serves as chairman of the Midland County Board of Commissioners, said he has not slept much since the evacuations were ordered for the south and west sides of Midland two nights ago as a precaution. He said no injuries or deaths had been reported as yet.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday declared an emergency for Midland County, including the city of Midland, with about 40,000 residents after days of heavy rain led to the collapse of the Edenville and Sanford dams.

The governor said flood waters in downtown Midland could reach about nine feet of water by Wednesday. She will have an update on conditions on Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s an ongoing flooding in parts of Midland with several feet of water, covering some streets of downtown Midland,” NWS meteorologist Andrew Arnold told Reuters on Wednesday. He said flood waters had already reached five feet in parts of downtown.

The extreme flooding comes as the state struggles with the economic and social fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, which could further strain resources and hamper the response to the crisis.

County officials had instructed residents of the affected areas to evacuate to shelters set up in the area.

Video posted on social media showed high waters lapping around buildings in downtown Midland, partly submerging bridges and roads.

Bone said the village of Sanford, the site of one of the dams, has been hit the hardest.

“A lot of businesses are underwater. Luckily no one has died or been hurt,” he said.

He said that most people so far are sheltering out of town with friends and relatives, but he has not checked the shelters Wednesday morning.

“People are helping each other,” he said. “That’s the way we are. We’re a good old hometown Midwest.”

About 5,400 customers out of nearly 41,000 in the Midland area were without power as a result of the flooding.

Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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