Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

10,000 Flee Record Flooding in Michigan After 'Catastrophic Failures' of ​Dams

Climate
10,000 Flee Record Flooding in Michigan After 'Catastrophic Failures' of ​Dams
Floodwaters flowing from the Tittabawassee River into the lower part of downtown Midland on May 20, 2020 in Midland, Michigan. Thousands of residents have been ordered to evacuate after two dams in Sanford and Edenville collapsed. Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

Around 10,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes in central Michigan after heavy rain prompted what the National Weather Service called "catastrophic failures" at two dams.


The Edenville and Sanford dams collapsed Tuesday night, threatening to drench the town of Midland, Michigan under nine feet of water, Reuters reported. The flooding comes as Michigan suffers one of the nation's worst coronavirus outbreaks, The New York Times pointed out. It currently has 53,009 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data as of Thursday morning, the seventh highest total in the U.S.

"It's hard to believe that we're in the middle of a 100-year crisis, a global pandemic, and we're also dealing with a flooding event that looks to be the worst in 500 years," Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said, as The New York Times reported.

Much of the town of Midland, Michigan, which has a population of 42,000, was inundated with record flooding Wednesday, Weather Underground reported. The Tittabawassee River gauge at Midland measured a water level about one foot above the previous record of 33.89 feet as of 2 p.m. local time. The river was expected to crest in the afternoon and evening, the National Weather Service said.

No deaths or injuries have been reported, according to The New York Times, but the event puts further pressure on residents and businesses already reeling from the impact of the coronavirus.

"It's disastrous," evacuee Sue Baranski from neighboring Sanford told The New York Times. "Between the devastation from the flooding and the virus and the small-business owners trying to make their way through that, it's just too much."

The flooding is the result of two environmental crises and may be the author of a third.

First, there's the climate crisis. Warming temperatures are expected to increase precipitation in northern midlatitudes and lead to more intense periods of rainfall in many places, including the U.S., as Weather Underground pointed out. In Michigan, this process is already underway. 2019 was its wettest year on record, and Midland is 1.35 feet of rainfall away from its wettest May on record. Its rainfall total for Monday and Tuesday was its third highest on record.

Then there's the state of one of the dams that failed. Federal regulators had warned for more than 20 years that the spillways at the Edenville Dam were not up to handling a major flood, CNN reported. However, they waited more than 13 years to crack down on the private company that operated the dam when it failed to comply, finally revoking its license in 2018. Oversight of the dam also passed from the federal government to the state of Michigan that year. Whitmer has promised an investigation of dam operator Boyce Hydro.

"This incredible damage requires that we hold people responsible," Whitmer said, as HuffPost reported. "This was a known problem for a while and that's why it's important that we do our due diligence and take action."

The flood also has the potential to cause lasting environmental damage as Dow Chemical confirmed Wednesday that flood waters were "commingling with on-site containment ponds," NPR reported. The flood also reached a Superfund site caused by a Dow release of dioxins, according to CNN.

"[T]this has the potential to be a major environmental disaster. Climate Power communications director Meghan Schneider tweeted.

Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
Trending
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less
An Amazon.com Inc. worker walks past a row of vans outside a distribution facility on Feb. 2, 2021 in Hawthorne, California. PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images

Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.

Read More Show Less