Michigan floodwaters caused by heavy rains, breach of dams start to recede

Floodwaters that breached two privately owned dams in Michigan began to recede on Thursday after displacing thousands of people and spreading to a Dow Chemical plant and a nearby hazardous waste cleanup site.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said U.S. President Donald Trump had pledged federal support after days of heavy rain caused the Tittabawassee River to overflow its banks and breach the Edenville and Sanford dams in central Michigan this week.

“This is unlike everything we’ve seen before. The damage is truly devastating,” Whitmer told a news conference.

Around 11,000 people in Midland County had to flee as floodwaters lapped around buildings and submerged parts of roads and bridges. No deaths have been reported.

The West Saginaw Road was destroyed in the village of Sanford after the area saw widespread flooding and damage from heavy rains. (Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. National Weather Service meteorologist Ian Lee said floodwaters have begun receding but would linger into the weekend.

Forecasters said rain was unlikely for the next seven days.

A dirt line marks the roof of a home, centre, on Thursday in Sanford after nearly three metres of water rushed through the area after two dams were breached following heavy rains. (Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images)

“Everyone is really pulling together, helping each other. We’re in the Midwest, we take care of each other,” Mark Bone, a business owner and county commissioner in Midland, told Reuters in a phone interview.

Although the flooding didn’t hit the worst predicted levels, it was still too dangerous for people to return home even if just to check their properties for damage, as the waters have yet to substantially recede, Bone said.

Rising water on the Tittabawasee River broke through the Edenville and Sanford dams leading to a warning from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that downtown Midland faced an especially serious flooding threat. Dow Chemical’s main plant sits on the city’s riverbank. (CBC)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) directed Boyce Hydro LLC, which owns the dams, to establish an independent investigative team to probe the root cause of the breaches. FERC is sending teams to both dams to assist in an investigation. The agency in 2018 revoked the hydropower-generating licence for the Edenville structure, accusing its operators of deficiencies.

Boyce said in media statements that it had been in conflict with federal and local authorities in recent years over how much water the dams should release and the levels of a nearby lake.

The company also said that since temporarily losing its license in 2018, it was unable to deploy funds to make improvements to the dams, and was not given additional resources by FERC and the local community.

Chemical giant Dow Chemical, which is headquartered in Midland and operates a 770-hectare plant, said on Thursday it was working with state and federal agencies to assess damage, including inspections at the hazardous waste site.

WATCH | Aerial images of the flood damage:

Thousands of residents urged to flee as raging Tittabawassee River surges toward cities and a Dow chemical plant. 0:48

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