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Thousands evacuated following Michigan dam failures

By UPI Staff & Chaffin Mitchell Accuweather.com

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an emergency declaration after two dams failed in Midland County, forcing thousands of residents to immediately evacuate their homes on Tuesday.

Downtown Midland could be under 9 feet of water by Wednesday morning, Gov. Whitmer said during a Livestream on Tuesday night following the two collapses. A flash flood emergency is in effect for the areas downstream, which includes Midland City and Freeland.

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Whitmer told residents if they haven't evacuated the area yet, do so now.

"This is unlike anything we've seen in Midland County," she said. "If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now. If you don't, go to one of the shelters that have opened across the county."

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Midland County emergency management told people in Midland City who are located west of Eastman and south of US 10, to evacuate immediately on Tuesday afternoon, NBC25 reported.

A slow-moving storm doused Michigan with heavy rains over the period of several days, triggering fear of imminent dam failure and flood warnings across the state.

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At least two rivers in mid-Michigan, the Tittabawassee River in Midland and the Rifle River near Sterling, reached their major flood stage on Tuesday afternoon, sending dams past their limits.

Flooding from Pine River in Arenac County. Photo courtesy of the Arenac County Sheriff's Department.
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Areas around Midland reported 3 inches to 4 inches of rain since Sunday, which produced a "tremendous" amount of runoff and is causing significant rises on the river system, the National Weather Service said.

The Tittabawassee Fire and Rescue rescued the driver of a pickup truck after the vehicle was swept away while trying to drive on a flooded roadway on Tuesday, WNEM reported.

"A very slowly moving storm system and cold front pushing through the Midwest has produced anywhere from 100 to 200 mm [3 inches to 8 inches] of rainfall in just the past week from the western Great Lakes through northern Indiana and into southern Missouri," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Jack Boston said.

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Edenville Township residents along Sanford and Wixom lakes northwest of Midland were urged to evacuate their homes and advised to make arrangements to stay elsewhere through Wednesday. Shelters have been set up at schools in the area.

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Officials in Arenac and Gladwin counties also urged residents to evacuate due to the possible dam breach from flash flooding along the Tittabawassee and Cedar rivers.

As floodwaters continued rising, threatening to cut off road access, emergency personnel warned citizens about the potential dangers of flooding and to find alternative routes if met with road closures. If drivers are caught going around a barricade, it can result in a traffic violation with a substantial fine, according to road commission officials.

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Officials with Bay County Road Commission said the county is experiencing water over roads in some areas and water issues with draining. The commission is in the process of working on a map of roads closed and water over the road, according to the commission's Facebook post.

"With all the rain we are getting, the river is rising and roads may be underwater. If you see water over the road, please do not attempt to drive thru it. Find an alternate route. Also, We are also aware there are water issues with draining. We just received a very large amount of rain and it has no where to go. Please be patient over the next couple days," the post reads, MLive reports.

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Around 1 a.m. Tuesday, the Saginaw County Emergency Management Team reported that an Edenville Dam failure in Midland could impact residents along the Tittabawassee River in Tittabawassee and Saginaw townships.

Midland County Emergency Management stated that the Edenville and Sanford dams are "structurally sound but spilling floodwaters" as of around 3 a.m. Tuesday, according to MLive.

Later on Tuesday, Midland County Emergency Management said that the Edenville and Sanford dams "are structurally sound but can no longer control or contain the amount of water flowing through the spill gates." The county is working with the hydroelectric power plant Boyce Hydro to assess the dams.

"At this point, the water is still rising from all of the rainfall we received over the last couple of days and it will continue to do so throughout the day," the Midland County Central Dispatch Authority said Tuesday.

The Tittabawassee River in Midland entered major flood stage Tuesday morning when the river was observed at 28.46 feet, according to a Midland County news release. The flood stage is 24 feet, and the river is expected to crest at 30.6 feet early Wednesday before levels start to subside over the next couple of days.

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A flood warning remains in effect for the Tittabawassee, from Midland downstream to Saginaw, and the forecast does not show relief for Midland.

Severe thunderstorms are possible tomorrow afternoon and evening for the highlighted areas. Hazards include damaging winds, large hail and frequent lightning, the National Weather Service said on Tuesday late afternoon.

The heavy rain that stretched from Michigan to the Ohio River Valley will shift to the southern Appalachians, Carolinas and western Virginia on Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center said. The threat of flash flooding is likely, especially in the western Carolinas and Virginia.

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