Dams Break in Michigan: Nation's Crumbling Infrastructure Takes Center Stage Again

Reports of catastrophic infrastructure failure today in Michigan, a state already facing some of the worst consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

2 minute read

May 20, 2020, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Midland, Michigan,

A Dow Chemical plant on the Tittabawassee River is threatened today by catastrophic flooding. | Lost_in_the_Midwest / Shutterstock

The state of Michigan is dealing with two crises at once today, as two dams broke in the past 24 hours, sending residents downstream scurrying for high ground during the coronavirus public health crisis and the affected watersheds yet to crest. 

Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, and Meg Wagner are gathering regular updates of the breaking news for CNN, as "Parts of the city of Midland and surrounding areas were virtual lakes Wednesday morning, and it could get worse."

"Downtown in Midland, a city of about 41,000 people downstream of the dams, could eventually be 'under approximately 9 feet of water' on Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the prior night," according to an earlier CNN report by Jason Hanna, Miguel Marquez and Christina Maxouris.

Another report by Matthew Cappucci and Andrew Freedman for The Washington Post describes the dam failure and flooding as "unprecedented." Here's how this article describes the events as they unfolded in Michigan:

The Edenville Dam was breached Tuesday evening after Midland received 4.7 inches of rain in a 48-hour period, following days of heavy rain across the state. The dam sits about 18 miles upstream of Midland, a city of more than 40,000.

That collapse sent floodwaters gushing into Sanford Lake, where a dam has powered the Boyce Hydroelectric Plant. The Sanford Dam succumbed shortly thereafter, the twin reservoirs of water left with no place to drain but into the city of Midland. A flash flood emergency is in effect for downstream areas of Sanford.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared an emergency for Midland County, on the same day that President Trump threatened to withhold coronavirus relief funding over a false accusation of election fraud connected to absentee ballots.

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