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'Catastrophic' Dam Failures In Michigan Force Thousands To Evacuate

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Water overruns the Sanford Dam in Michigan on Tuesday. The National Weather Service called the flooding "extremely dangerous" and said it was caused by "catastrophic failures" at two dams.
TC Vortex via Reuters

Water overruns the Sanford Dam in Michigan on Tuesday. The National Weather Service called the flooding "extremely dangerous" and said it was caused by "catastrophic failures" at two dams.

Thousands of residents in central Michigan have been forced to evacuate their homes after rapidly rising waters from the Tittabawassee River from two dam failures threatened to flood parts of Midland County, bringing up to 9 feet of water.

The ongoing flooding is projected to be "historic," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

The National Weather Service called the event "extremely dangerous" and said it was caused by "catastrophic failures at the Edenville and Sanford dams," located about 140 miles north of Detroit.

It added that "life-threatening flooding" will continue Wednesday.

During a Tuesday evening briefing, Whitmer, who is overseeing a public health crisis with the spread of the coronavirus, urged residents in Midland County to get to safety immediately and ordered evacuations. She also has declared a state of emergency for the county.

"Please get somewhere safe, now," the governor urged. "In the next 12-15 hours downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water. We are anticipating a historic high water level."

Arial footage of the flood shows torrents of brown, murky water pouring over a compromised dam.

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Michigan Radio reported the dam failures were caused in part by several inches of rain earlier in the week that caused the Tittabawassee River to swell.

"The city of Midland is bracing for the worst," the member station reported. "Midland has evacuated 10,000 people, along with patients in the city's hospital. Residents of Sanford, Edenville and other communities have also been forced from their homes."

Midland City Manager Brad Kaye told the station that this flood could be worse than a historic flood 34 years ago.

"The 1986 flood that most people remember, that were here at least, or if you weren't here, you certainly heard about it, was a 100-year flood," Kaye said. "What we're looking at is an event that is the equivalent of a 500-year flood."

Midland County Central Dispatch has issued a flood warning until 2:15 p.m. ET. It said "county dispatch reported uncontrolled flow through the emergency spillway and the imminent failure of Sanford Dam on the Tittabawassee River."

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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