Thousands were forced to evacuate their homes in central Michigan after two dams failed, causing severe flooding.
The Edenville Dam and Sanford Dam failed after days of heavy rainfall across the state, causing what the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, described as a 500-year flood. Residents in the neighboring towns of Edenville, Sanford, and Midland were forced to flee.
According to the city of Midland, 11,000 people were evacuated in under twelve hours, without casualties or major injuries.
Despite the pandemic, it was not possible to avoid placing some people in traditional shelters with shared facilities immediately, Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster operations and logistics, told Direct Relief.
Eight shelters were originally opened for evacuees, with social distancing posing some challenges for emergency officials.
The goal, Kieserman told Direct Relief, was to find alternate accommodations for people displaced by the flooding.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the Tittabawassee River in Midland County, cautioning that the river was a full 10 feet above flood levels, although they have since begun to recede.
Midland is the home of a Dow Chemical complex, which experienced flooding during the event and shut down some of its operations.
Even aside from the immediate danger, extreme weather events can cause problematic interruptions to primary care and even worsen chronic conditions as people evacuate without medication or vital supplies. While infectious disease is always a concern in shelter settings, Covid-19 adds a new layer of complication.
Direct Relief has reached out to partners near the affected area and is in communication with local hospitals. For the past several weeks, the organization has been actively supporting Michigan hospitals with coronavirus-related shipments.
The organization will continue to monitor the events in central Michigan, particularly in light of the added complications caused by Covid-19, and will offer assistance as needed.