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Photo by Drew Travis

Two dams collapse causing massive flooding in Midland, Michigan area


May 19, 2020. Massive destruction along the Tittabawassee River in Midland County, Mich. Homes, schools, churches, businesses, parks, entire lives uprooted like the hundreds of trees that were knocked over and cascaded down the Tittabawassee river. 


10,000 people evacuated. 2,500 structures damaged or destroyed. Over $400 million in damage. All in all, over 35 billion gallons of water descended on Midland, Michigan after two dams burst when an unprecedented eight inches of rain fell during the prior two days. The state called it a 500 year flood. Many insurance companies refused to provide relief largely because the flood was a man-made disaster and not natural flooding. 


According to Bridge Magazine, Boyce Hydro, the owners of the two failed dams in Midland County, Michigan, purchased the dams as a tax shelter. “We know the owners of the dam, with their long history of neglect, are responsible for the dams’ failure," said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. They (Boyce Hydro), “repeatedly put its own profits over the safety of the public.” For years, the state of Michigan cited the owners but did nothing more.


Heather Ellis, co-owner of the Marathon gas station in Sanford that was almost completely destroyed, said “We got no help from our insurance company since what happened is technically not a flood, so we have to apply for some loans and hope we get those.” This man-made catastrophe still lingers like a fog over the communities that it affected.


The floodwaters crested just above 35 feet, a grim record for the Tittabawassee river by over 6 feet. To put that into perspective, that’s a wall of water about as tall as the average three-story building. The river was engorged with over 35 billion gallons of water that was contained in both Sanford and Wixom lakes, and together they amassed a raging torrent of water that moved at a staggering pace of 22.7 million gallons per minute.


Chris Billings, a single father of three, whose home was completely destroyed in the event, is living in a seasonal camper. It’s shored up along the bottom with slabs of foam insulation to hold in the heat for the coming winter. He is building their new home in the empty grave of the previous. Billings has had no help financially from insurance or FEMA. “The biggest thing now is the waiting game,” Chris said. “We need answers.”


Damage is estimated to be around $436 million.The staggering figure includes, $211 million to property, over $200 million to repair the dams and an additional $27 million in damage to roadways and bridges.


“We’re not dead and gone,” said Lynn Borka, resident of Hope, MI. “It really bothers me that people have left us.”


-By Drew Travis