Sanford residents deal with aftermath of dam failure during 500-year flood

Published: May. 21, 2020 at 12:04 AM EDT
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(05/20/20) - There was no significant change with the status of the Sanford Dam Wednesday evening since its initial breach on Tuesday. Water is running over the failing dam and the earthen part is washed out, but officials say the structure is still there.

"Water has gone over the dike and around the dike. The plug is out at Sanford, so a little water is going through but the structure remains there, which is different than Edenville," said Midland County Controller/Administrator Bridgette Grandsen.

ABC12 drone video captured just how extensive the damage is for the residents of Sanford. Midland City Manager Brad Kaye says a bad situation could become worse if the entire structure were to collapse.

"There would be a higher surge that would come down the river and that could raise the level much more quickly than what we're seeing right now, so it is dangerous," Kaye said.

The images were just as gripping on the ground. Beyond the broken dam, there are leaning light poles and mangled buildings. Underneath the water, however, it's still the place where Marissa Zajac has fond memories.

"And that's why I'm trying to, like, capture all of it. So in years to come I can be like, yep, I lived through that," Zajac said.

She lived through it and, thankfully, so did everyone else. Zajac took photographs of Center and Cass streets where by early evening Wednesday the sidewalk was starting to show itself again as water receded.

Here’s what’s left of the Sanford Dam. To the right and left of the structure in the middle you can see that it’s pretty much gone. Abc12: First In-Depth Everywhere Wjrt-Tv

Posted by Elisse Ramey ABC12 on Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Art Straight told ABC12 the water overtook children's baseball fields and some of the places the holds close to his heart.

"Fished all my life right on the river in front of the dam, and as I can tell right now, most of the buildings down here are damaged beyond repair or gone," Straight said.

Meanwhile, Midland County and city are relying on "invaluable" film of the dams and surrounding structures from Michigan State Police helicopters.

"I never thought anything like this would happen here," Straight said.

He's ready to lend a hand if needed.

"If they need help, call. This is a working community, everybody helps everybody," Straight said.

The surging waters displaced families and some of their possessions, but the 500-year flood also has taught Zajac a valuable lesson.

"I'd say appreciating what you have and when you have it because you never know when you just lose everything," Zajac said.