Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer says the state will pursue “every line of legal recourse” against the owners of one of two dams that failed earlier this week, causing severe flooding in several communities.
More than 10,000 residents in the central town of Midland were evacuated Wednesday as the Tittabawassee River overran its banks hours after the Edenville Dam, located 32 kilometers north, failed after several days of heavy seasonal rains.
Officials say the Tittabawassee River crested just above 10 meters late Wednesday before receding from several areas.
The mass evacuation is complicated by the threat of COVID-19 in the area. Although Midland County has confirmed fewer than 80 cases and fewer than 10 deaths, Michigan has 52,350 confirmed cases, the state’s government reported.
Midland is home to the headquarters of Dow Chemical company, which also operates a major manufacturing plant there. A Dow spokesman says the company has shut down all of its units, except those necessary to safeguard chemicals, but added that floodwaters were mixing with containment ponds used for storm and brine water. The company said there was no threat to residents or the environment.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the operating license of the 96-year-old Edenville hydroelectric dam in 2018 because Boyce Hydro, the dam’s owner, had ignored the dam’s structural deficiencies for more than a decade, especially its failure to increase its spillway capacity to divert floodwaters.
That same year, the FERC gave a fair condition rating to the Sanford Dam, located downstream from Edenville, which also failed Tuesday.
President Donald Trump, who has criticized Whitmer relentlessly over her response to the coronavirus pandemic in her state, is planning to visit a Ford Motor Company auto plant in Michigan Thursday. He tweeted in support of the evacuations on Wednesday, writing, “STAY SAFE and listen to local officials.”