Coronavirus Pandemic Complicates Michigan's Response To Flooding
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Downtown Midland, Mich., is under water. Two dams failed after heavy rain, forcing 10,000 people to flee. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody is on the line. Good morning.
STEVE CARMODY, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Where do things stand now?
CARMODY: Well, the Tittabawassee River is running through parts of downtown Midland. The river is expected to crest around 38 feet. That's well above the city's previous record. City manager Brad Kaye describes this as a 500-year event, with the water rising 4 to 5 feet above the city's 1986 flood, which did about $70 million in damage.
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BRAD KAYE: The consequence of living in a river valley, of course, is that we have to deal with river floods at times. This, however, is something that is - would be unprecedented.
CARMODY: Kaye says the city has evacuated about a quarter of its population, along with the patients from its only hospital.
INSKEEP: We're talking about a city of about 40,000 people here, a little bit more than that. What will it look like as the river then crests sometime today?
CARMODY: Well, by some estimates, parts of Midland may be under up to 9 feet of water at the crest, and then it will take many more days for the Tittabawassee to return inside its banks. The river has been swelling for the past few days. Earlier this week, parts of the region were inundated with more than 8 inches of rain. The rains forced two dams to breach on Tuesday, and that water is now draining from swollen lakes upstream.
INSKEEP: How do authorities respond, Steve Carmody, when it's a pandemic and people are supposed to stay at home and, suddenly, thousands are told they have to leave home?
CARMODY: Well, Governor Gretchen Whitmer last night urged people to respond to this by wearing face masks and by social distancing as best they can. And she noted that this historic flooding is taking place at the same time the state of Michigan is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
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GRETCHEN WHITMER: To go through this in the midst of a global pandemic is almost unthinkable. But we are here, and to the best of our ability, we are going to navigate this together.
CARMODY: When the first evacuation centers opened on Monday night, many people spent the night in their cars in the parking lot rather than sleep in the local high school.
INSKEEP: Yeah, you can see why people would want to make that choice. And it's challenging, if you're talking about thousands of people, sheltering them very suddenly, also keeping them apart. I want to ask you about one other thing. Midland, Mich., is the headquarters of Dow Chemical. Don't they have a plant in town?
CARMODY: Yes, it's a massive chemical plant that sits on the Tittabawassee River. Dow Chemical was founded in Midland back in the 1800s. Now, a Dow spokeswoman says the company has activated its emergency operations center and will be adjusting operations as a result of the flood, but Dow's not saying much beyond that.
INSKEEP: Steve Carmody, I just want to note one silver lining here - you just successfully said the word Tittabawassee River on live radio again and again, and I think you got it right. So well done.
CARMODY: (Laughter) Thank you.
INSKEEP: We'll continue following the difficult situation in Midland, Mich., where some 10,000 people have evacuated so far. Steve Carmody is with Michigan Radio. Thanks so much.
CARMODY: Thank you.
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