Thousands evacuate as ‘500-year flood’ destroys 2 dams in Michigan

djperry/iStockBy CHRISTINA CARREGA, ABC News

(MIDLAND, Mich.) -- The governor of Michigan declared a state of emergency Tuesday night after rapidly rising waters crashed through two dams and forced thousands to evacuate.

Officials with the city of Midland warned residents that the Edenville Dam, along the Tittabawassee River, failed around 5:45 p.m., and that the Sandord Dam broke around 6:50 p.m.

Since Monday, storms have produced more than 8 inches of rain that overflowed the dams and caused downstream flooding in Midland County. Sea Cord and Smallwood dams were experiencing high water flow on Wednesday and being closely monitored.

Midland City Manager Brad Kaye said flood heights are expected to be up to 5 feet higher than the last highest flood in 1986.

"In the 1986 flood, it was considered a 100-year flood," said Kaye. "Current flood is predicted to be the equivalent of a 500-year flood."

A "500-year flood" means there's a 0.002% chance -- 1 in 500 -- of it occurring in a given year, according to the United States Geological Survey.

"In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a press conference Tuesday night. "We are anticipating an historic high water level.”

Evacuations started overnight. Midland County has over 83,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census.

Shelter locations are in Colman High School, Bullet Creek, Midland High School, North Midland Family Center and West Midland Family Center, said Midland County Board Chair Mark Bone.

Kaye said the water systems are potentially at risk, and hospitals are major concern.

However, MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland said the facility isn't planning to evacuate just yet.

"We have been working alongside local agencies, watching closely the rapid changes that have been occurring due to the flooding," the hospital said in a statement. "We have transferred a few patients that were identified by their physician. ... We continue to monitor the situation as it evolves."

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