Michigan dam collapse: State reviews legal action over 'known problem' that caused catastrophic flooding

Justin Vallejo
Flooding in Michigan's Midland County has sent residents scrambling to protect their homes: AP

Two broken dams that unleashed catastrophic flooding and led to the evacuation of 10,000 people across Michigan were a "known problem, according to the state's governor.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said on Wednesday that while the heavy rains were a 500-year event that could leave downtown Midland under nine feet of water, the problems that lead to the dams busting had been known "for a while".

"Regarding the dams, the state of Michigan is reviewing every potential legal recourse that we have because this incredible damage requires that we hold people responsible and we are pursuing and are going to pursue every line of legal recourse that we can," she said during a press conference.

"The initial readout is that this was a known problem for a while and that's why it's important that we do our due diligence and then we take our action," she added.

Ms Whitmer said there were so far no fatalities as a result of the flooding, but that the Tittabawassee River at Midland would continue to rise until 8 pm, when it is forecast to crest at record levels of 38 feet. The previous record was 33.89 feet in 1986.

Donald Trump said he's sending federal emergency workers to Michigan, but called on Governor Whitmer to ease the state's strict coronavirus lockdown measures.

After days of heavy rain, the river breached the Edenville and Sanford dams on Tuesday evening, with the National Weather Services issuing a flash-flood warning for people in the area to seek higher ground.

Midland County Board of Commissioners issued evacuation orders for about 3,500 homes and 10,000 people, including about 150 residents of the Riverside Place seniors home that escaped in walkers and wheelchairs.

The headquarters and manufacturing complex of Dow Chemical Co. was in the path of the flooding, leading observers to warn of a potential environmental disaster

The company said in a statement on Wednesday they had shut down all facilities except those managing chemical containment.

"At approximately 10:00 a.m. Eastern it was confirmed there were flood waters commingling with on-site containment ponds," the company said.

"We immediately partnered with the US Coast Guard to activate emergency plans."

Michigan is expected to formally ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for support.