Urging residents to evacuate and warning that downtown Midland could be under 9 feet of water by Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County after the Edenville and Sanford dams breached.
Speaking during a press conference late Tuesday, Whitmer said parts of the city of Midland, the village of Sanford, Edenville Township and Dow Chemical had been or were being evacuated. She said officials were working to evacuate residents in Tittabawassee, Thomas and Saginaw townships.
Parts of Midland Township, Lincoln Township and Homer Township had also been evacuated, according to alerts on Midland County’s emergency management system, with tens of thousands of people potentially affected by flooding along the Tittabawassee River with a flood warning in effect through Wednesday morning.
“This is unlike anything we’ve seen before… but this is truly a historic event that’s playing out in the midst of another historic event,” Whitmer said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic which has led to stay-at-home orders throughout the state and the deaths of more than 5,000 people.
She said that despite those orders generally telling people to stay home, it was important that anyone living in the affected areas evacuate as quickly as possible to safer areas, or go to the homes of relatives and friends. Three shelters had opened in Midland County, as well.
Several dams upstream of Midland along the Tittabawassee had either been breached or were releasing water uncontrollably after 4 to 7 inches of rain fell Sunday and Monday, including the Edenville and Sanford dams on Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people in mid-Michigan.
The National Weather Service forecast major flooding, likely setting records.
The Tittabawassee River had swelled to 30.9 feet late Tuesday and was forecast to crest at 38 feet at 8 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. The record is 33.9 feet.
The Sanford Dam was breached later in the day Tuesday.
“Please do not hesitate. Go to stay with a friend or relative or go to one of these shelters now,” she said, adding that even at a shelter, people should try to do the best they can to practice social distancing and wear a face covering to protect themselves and others from coronavirus.
Whitmer also urged people not to walk or drive through standing water and to take the evacuation notices seriously, saying there were thousands of Michiganders who needed to heed the call to evacuate immediately.
Midland is the largest city in the affected area with about 40,000 residents and the home to Dow Chemical.