Daylight reveals scale of destruction from floods along Tittabawassee River

Edenville Dam breached, draining much of Wixom Lake. (photo by Martin Szeliga)
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MID-MICHIGAN (WJRT) (5/20/2020) - Up to 10,000 people have been forced from their homes to escape the rising flood waters a day after the Edenville and Sanford dams breached on the Tittabawassee River.

The Michigan National Guard has been deployed to help those living near the collapsed Edenville Dam and the Sanford Dam. Both are overflowing and the Poseyville Dyke also breached.

Aerial photos taken Wednesday morning show large sections of the Edenville and Sanford dams missing with water gushing through. Much of Wixom Lake drained overnight and flowed down the Tittabawassee River.

Flood watches and warnings remained active in Midland, Saginaw and Gladwin counties on Wednesday morning as area rivers near historic and record crests.

Michigan State Police and several other state agencies also were in the area assisting local emergency crews with the response.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was in the Midland area Wednesday morning and was planning a news conference later in the day to address the historic floods. She warned late Tuesday that downtown Midland could be inundated with 9 feet of water.

Many people have been coming to downtown Midland near the H hotel taking in the scene. One man said the flooding is beyond what he ever imagined.

"Impressive for lack of a better word," said John Thaxter, who has lived in Midland for 15 years. "To see Mother Nature and how we're affected by that."

He's never experienced anything like what happened Tuesday night, as emergency alerts went out that two dams were giving way. First responders went up and down streets blaring an emergency message telling residents to evacuate.

It was the second alerts about the dams after authorities raised concern of them failing late Monday, but they held Monday night and well into Tuesday afternoon.

The Edenville Dam, which holds back Wixom Lake, breached around 5:45 p.m. The Sanford Dam, which holds back Sanford Lake, breached later in the evening.

"First we got the alerts that the dams were going to fail and then they were OK. Then we got the alerts that the Edenville Dam had failed and we just saw everybody leaving the Sanford area," Thaxter said. "Cars just coming down getting out of the area."

Thankfully, his home is still intact. Others are not so lucky.

"We were just hoping that we wouldn't have to. But if the Sanford Dam failed and the water continued to rise we were right on the border, so we weren't really sure," Thaxter said. "So I got up this morning and went on a bike ride to check on everything."

Hundreds of donations poured into Midland High School on Wednesday, where residents who lost their homes evacuated a day earlier. Local agencies and other residents came to help those in need.

"We will get through it. I think we will be alright," Thaxter said. "It is going to be tough. It's probably empty words to people who have lost their homes. But right now its about neighbor helping neighbor."

Michigan National Guard members continued bringing people to evacuation centers Wednesday morning as water levels continued rising.

The National Weather Service gauge on the Tittabawassee River in Midland showed the level set a new record just shy of 35 feet on Wednesday morning. The crest is expected around 38 feet later Wednesday.

The previous record river level in Midland was 33.6 feet during the massive flooding in 1986.

Sanford Dam in Midland County breached. (photo by Martin Szeliga)