Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

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

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.

Lakota spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse attends a demonstration against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in front of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2015. Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is planning to cancel the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on the first day of his administration, a document reported by CBC on Sunday suggests.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

Read More Show Less


A new study invites parents of cancer patients to answer questions about their environment. FatCamera / Getty Images

By Jennifer Sass, Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, Dr. Philip J. Landrigan and Simon Strong

"Prevention is the cure for child/teen cancer." This is the welcoming statement on a website called 'TheReasonsWhy.Us', where families affected by childhood cancers can sign up for a landmark new study into the potential environmental causes.

Read More Show Less
Madagascar has been experiencing ongoing droughts and food insecurity since 2016. arturbo / Getty Images

Nearly 1.6 million people in the southern part of Madagascar have faced food insecurity since 2016, experiencing one drought after another, the United Nations World Food Program reported.

Read More Show Less
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst stand at the Orion spacecraft during a visit at the training unit of the Columbus space laboratory at the European Astronaut training centre of the European Space Agency ESA in Cologne, Germany on May 18, 2016. Ina Fassbender / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

By Monir Ghaedi

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep most of Europe on pause, the EU aims for a breakthrough in its space program. The continent is seeking more than just a self-sufficient space industry competitive with China and the U.S.; the industry must also fit into the European Green Deal.

Read More Show Less