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Michigan dam breaches force thousands to evacuate

Wednesday, May 20th 2020, 11:27 am - Parts of the state received as much as 170 mm of rainfall over the past couple of days.

At least 10,000 people have had to flee their homes after dams in Michigan failed amid heavy downpours.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency after the Edenville and Sanford dams breached overnight, triggering widespread flooding in Midland County, in the central part of the state.

"In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately nine feet of water," Whitmer told media.

The dams failed amidst extreme rainfall from a low-pressure system that traversed the region over the weekend into Monday, with some areas receiving as much as 170 mm of rain according to the Detroit Free Press.

Michigan dam break 1 REUTERS An aerial view of flooding as water overruns Sanford Dam, Michigan, U.S. in this May 19, 2020 still frame obtained from social media video. TC VORTEX /via REUTERS

Michigan dam break 2 REUTERS Vehicles and signs are submerged as floodwaters are seen in downtown Sanford, Michigan, U.S. in this May 19, 2020 picture obtained from social media. TC VORTEX /via REUTERS

Michigan dam break 3 REUTERS Floodwaters overflow at Sanford Dam, Michigan, U.S. in this May 19, 2020 picture obtained from social media. TC VORTEX /via REUTERS

No injuries or deaths have been reported so far, but the floodwaters have engulfed around 3,500 homes. The Tittabawassee River was expected to crest Wednesday morning at 38 feet (11.5 metres), well above the 24-foot flood stage.

Tuesday's evacuations were actually the second in recent days due to the extreme rainfall.

“We were back at home and starting to feel comfortable that things were calming down,” Catherine Sias, who first left home Tuesday morning, told the Free Press. “All of a sudden we heard the fire truck sirens going north toward the dam.”

The crisis has been worsened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with evacuees and emergency workers having to navigate the situation in the midst of ongoing physical distancing measures.

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