Dozens return home along Tittabawassee River after dire flash flood warnings

Water rushes through the Sanford Dam as levels near records along the Tittabawassee River.

MIDLAND COUNTY (WJRT) (5/19/2020) - Dozens of residents spent the night at emergency shelters after their fled their homes amid dire concerns about dams on the Tittabawassee River.

Emergency evacuation alerts went out just after midnight to residents around Sanford and Wixom lakes after officials believed the Sanford Dam was about to collapse and send a torrent of water rushing down the Tittabawassee River.

Similar alerts went out to residents below the Chappel Dam on the Cedar River in Gladwin County.

RELATED: Evacuations underway in Gladwin, Midland counties due to flooding

"Everybody was really concerned about the dam this morning when we got the alerts on the cell phone," said Thomas Tebbe, who lives near the Tittabawassee River in Midland County. "First responders even came around giving everyone a notice -- a warning."

Coleman High School and Meridian Elementary School opened as emergency shelters. First responders said it wasn't long after the alert went out that people started to arrive -- most remaining in their cars and following social distancing practices.

"Actually there were only about eight that took advantage of the cots. But there was at least 125 cars out in the parking lots," said Denise Cole of the Jerome Township Fire Department.

A few hours after the initial emergency alert, Midland County Emergency Services says Boyce Hydro inspected the dams and deemed them structurally sound.

Flooding from the Tittabawassee River remains a major concern, however.

"They should be concerned in the lower laying areas, because when you beat the ground up with water like this there is no where for normal ground water to go so it backs up itself," Tebbe said.

As daylight broke, most people who evacuated overnight headed home to assess the damage, expecting to find standing water in their houses.

"They managed to spend the night here and get some rest before they go back home and try to find out whats left at home," Cole said. "So if they have flooding or problems at least they have a nights rest ahead of them."

Standing water from the Tittabawassee River still sits at the village of Sanford park just feet from neighborhoods as residents continue to hope levels will soon go down and spare their homes.

RELATED: Flooding could be historic for parts of Mid-Michigan

The Tittabawassee River is expected to crest in Midland Tuesday night at 30.6 feet, which would be the third highest on record. The river reached major flooding levels Tuesday morning as water continued rising.

The Rifle River near Sterling broke its record high crest on Tuesday morning and continued climbing. The river is expected to crest on Tuesday afternoon over 15.5 feet, which is nearly two feet higher than the record of 13.74 feet set in 1950.

The Saginaw River also was climbing Tuesday afternoon into the moderate flooding range. It was forecast to crest on Thursday around 21.5 feet.

Moderate flooding also was forecast on the Tobacco River in Beaverton and on the Chippewa River in Mount Pleasant before water levels begin to subside.