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10,000 evacuated from Michigan towns after dams fail, prompting historic floods

Governor issues state of emergency for area
Posted at 8:28 AM, May 20, 2020

GLADWIN COUNTY, Mich. — Residents of Edenville and Sanford, two Michigan towns north of Detroit, have been ordered to evacuate after the breach of two dams, prompting Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare a state of emergency for the area.

Downtown Midland could be under nine feet of water — historic water levels from flash flooding — according to the governor.

So far, 10,000 people have been evacuated or are in the process of being evacuated, the Community Affairs Director for the City of Midland Selina Crosby Tisdale said. Officials say residents have taken the requests seriously, and the evacuations have been going smoothly.

There are about 42,000 people in Midland and around 70,000 total in Gladwin County.

Tisdale called the disaster a "500-year flood." A 1986 flood reached a historical level at about 33.9 feet. Officials are expecting Tittabawassee River levels to reach around 36 feet later Wednesday morning.

Typically, a flood emergency declaration is made when water levels hit 20 feet.

At 5:44 p.m. local time on Tuesday, Midland County dispatch and emergency management reported that the Edenville Dam on the Tittabawassee River had collapsed, according to the National Weather Service.

Life-threatening flash flooding moved through the area from the dam failures.

Just after 8:30 p.m., county dispatch said that failure of the Sanford Dam was imminent. By late Tuesday, the dam was breached. People downstream of the Sanford Dam were told to seek higher ground immediately because the impact of the situation could be deadly.

In response to the dam break, Whitmer issued an emergency declaration for Midland County.

"The State Emergency Operations Center is already activated and fully engaged in the response," according to a statement from the governor's office. "State officials from multiple departments have been on-site throughout the day. We will share additional information as it becomes available."

Two schools were opened for evacuees in the Midland area, about 140 miles north of Detroit, after the breach of Edenville Dam. The dam holds back Wixom Lake.

Shelters for residents have opened across Midland County and will remain open until further notice.

"If you have not evacuated the area, do so now and get somewhere safe," Whitmer said. "This is unlike anything we've seen in Midland County. 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. I want to thank the emergency responders, Michigan National Guard members, and the Michigan State Police on the ground helping residents evacuate. Stay safe, and take care of each other."

You can read the full emergency declaration here . For more information on shelters, road closures, and updates, visit

This story was originally published by WXYZ in Detroit.