Midland — The Tittabawassee River reached its historic high early Wednesday morning, said the National Weather Service — and, according to projections, could go four feet higher by day’s end.
At about 5:30 a.m., the river reached 33.97 feet, said Trent Frey, a National Weather Service meteorologist. By 8:15 a.m., it was at 34.64 feet.
The river is considered in flood stage at 24 feet, and major flood stage at 28 feet, and had been as low as 14 feet mid-day Sunday.
This means the river is about 20 feet higher than it was just three days ago.
Dozens of residents descended on downtown Midland on Wednesday morning to gape at flooded streets along the Tittabawassee River.
The river-front Midland Area Farmers Market and several streets were underwater.
Residents snapped photos as the tops of street lights and stop signs peaked out from the water’s surface.
“You don’t see that every day,” said Don Weitzel of Midland. “I never saw it rain so much.”
Weitzel’s home wasn’t affected by the widespread flooding but he had a restless 24 hours.
“It got my friend’s home. I thought it was going to get me,” he said.
According to National Weather Service projections, made about 6:45 a.m. Wednesday, the river could crest at 38 feet.
The river’s previous high was 33.89 feet on Sept. 13, 1986, according to weather service statistics dating back to 1936.
The flooding in Midland owes not just to the several inches of rain in the area in recent days, but to rains north of the area that drain to the south, Frey explained.
“Thankfully, we’re expecting a dry pattern” in Midland through at least Friday, he said.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency in Midland, warning, in a Tuesday night briefing, that its downtown area could go “under nine feet of water.”
“If you have not evacuated the area, do so now and get somewhere safe,” Whitmer warned residents. “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.
Making matters worse, the high waters overpowered two dams, the Edenville and the Sanford.
In September 2018, the feds revoked the Edenville dam’s license to generate power, due to numerous violations and longstanding concerns that the Edenville Dam could not withstand a significant flood.
The Edenville Dam’s failure prompted the Sanford Dam’s failure.
Attempts to reach Boyce Hydro LLC, owner of the Edenville dam, were unsuccessful Wednesday morning.
The federal energy commission (FERC), which regulates U.S. power generation, notified the dam’s previous owner as far back as 1999 that it needed to increase capacity of the Edenville dam’s spillways to prevent a significant flood from overcoming the structure. FERC subsequently notified the dam’s new owner, Boyce Hydro Power LLC, when the license transferred in 2004.
By June 2017, the commission cracked down, citing the owner’s “longstanding failure to address the project’s inadequate spillway capacity at this high hazard dam.”
“Thirteen years after acquiring the license for the project, the licensee has still not increased spillway capacity, leaving the project in danger,” wrote Jennifer Hill, director division of Hydropower Administration and Compliance. “The spillway capacity deficiencies must be remedied in order to protect life, limb and property.”
The city of Midland posted a “potential flood map” on its Facebook page Wednesday. Among the areas covered by dark blue, which would potentially be affected in the event of “worst-case dam failure” are Dow High School, Northwood University and the Mid-Michigan Health Center.
While Midland High School is being used as an evacuation center, Dow is not. The Midland County Twitter page indicates about 10,000 people had to be evacuated.
A report from “CBS This Morning” says emergency officials went door-to-door on Tuesday, even before the dams were overpowered, telling residents to leave the path of danger.
The American Red Cross is taking part in two shelter efforts in the area, said Perry Rech, spokesman for the Michigan region.
Additionally, the Red Cross has put out a call to its trained volunteer pool, which numbers anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 people considered active volunteers.
But with major evacuations, and untold damage, the case-work needs resulting from the flood could take months to resolve, Rech said. So the Red Cross is seeking out “virtual volunteers” to help shoulder the workload. The people being deployed to Midland now have already been trained.
Michael Sharrow, superintendent of Midland, posted two photos from the Midland High School evacuation center.
The Mid-Michigan Medical Center, according to a statement from president Greg Rogers, has transferred a few patients “that were identified by their physician,” but has “no current plans to evacuate.”
A Wednesday morning update said the medical center “remains staffed and operational,” and there were still no plans to evacuate. But due to the emergency, its urgent care, physicians group, family practice center, rehab sites, and home care and home medical equipment interests would all be closed, at least for the day.
“The practices will be converting to virtual visits as much as possible,” the medical center said in a statement.
After the 1986 flood, the hospital system installed a “FEMA-approved flood wall,” and its generators are above the flood plain, “to reduce risk of damage to the medical center,” Rogers’ statement said.
The Michigan Department of Transportation’s Bay region Twitter page, which covers Midland, notes a number of flooded roadways.
Drivers shouldn’t try to pass over water, as they can’t know how deep the waters are, experts advise during flood situations.
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