Storms wash out roads in Upper Peninsula

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Massive storms that swept across the Upper Peninsula in Houghton County caused historic flood damage and dozens of sinkholes, leaving roads impassable and residents stuck in their homes, local officials said. At least one person was hospitalized.

Flood waters damaged Agate Street in Houghton.

The storms hit early Sunday morning when as much as 6 inches of rain causing flash flooding in some areas, according to the National Weather Service. Sections of roads, including US-41 and M-26 and M-203, were were inaccessible and debris-covered. Late Sunday, the Michigan Department of Transportation said US-41 had partially reopened. M-26, from Tamarack and Dollar Bay, and M-203, at Brooks Road between Hancock and Calumet, remained closed, it said.

The weather service on Sunday called the flood damage in the southern and central Houghton County “a particularly dangerous situation.”

“Law enforcement reports that many area roads are impassable and are covered by debris,” the weather service said in a statement on its Facebook page. “Residents have been asked to stay off the roadways until the water subsides and the debris has been cleared.”

State officials announced Sunday afternoon that they were activating their State Emergency Operations Center to monitor the situation and to provide resources.

Flooding could worsen if the area sees another 1-3 inches of rain through Monday, the weather service said.

Residents and city officials in the Houghton and Hancock communities reported flooded homes, washed out roads, closed businesses and sinkholes. Michigan Technological University closed its campus Sunday and Monday after the basement of its administration building flooded, its website said.

A 12-year-old Houghton boy was hospitalized with injuries after his house partially collapsed into a sinkhole, local officials said.

Houghton Mayor Robert Backon said major roads that lead to the city’s downtown area were blocked off due to flood damage. Some roads had completely caved in, he said.

Backon said this was the first time in Houghton’s history that the city had experienced flooding as severe as Sunday’s. He urged residents to stay home unless they had an emergency.

“By and large, the city workers and county workers have been out trying to help in every way,” Backon said.

Dot O’Donnell, 69, of Houghton said she spent Sunday using buckets to get water out of her basement, which had at least 1 foot of water.

O’Donnell said since many of the roads in town were destroyed, she didn’t know if there was a safe route to get to a store to buy a sump pump.

She also was concerned that she hadn’t see any emergency vehicles in her neighborhood on Jacker Avenue.

“It’s just a mess,” O’Donnell said. “They should have the National Guard here so people won’t be out and about. They are going to end up getting hurt or killed.”

Photos are of flooding damage on Shelden Ave. in Houghton, MI. after a series of storms made their way through the Upper Peninsula, Sunday, June 17, 2018.  (Photo courtesy Jeff Stroud)

Storm reports from the National Weather Service indicated substantial damage, with more than 20 incidents listed. Flooding was reported along the Portage Canal at west Lakeshore Drive in Houghton, as was Agate Street, the weather service said, citing social media accounts. A “curve adjacent to the Pilgrim River has been washed out,” another indicated. US-41 between Chassell and Houghton had pavement damage and multiple washouts. M-26 remained closed, as well, near the Mont Ripley ski hill.

A local fire department reported in Hancock a mudslide “with large rocks on High Point Rd. near M-203.”

Backon said a few local rivers, including Pilgrim, overflowed during the storm but the city’s roads weren’t strong enough to withstand the heavy rainfall.

“The drains couldn’t take it and it continually tore away and became a total mess,” Backon said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report