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President Donald Trump declared a federal emergency in Michigan on Thursday in response to catastrophic flooding in Midland County this week. 

The approval came as he toured the Ford Motor Co.'s Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, where workers are making ventilators to help with the coronavirus response.

Trump, in remarks before the tour, said of the dam breaches that “perhaps there was a mistake made somewhere along the line,” but he added there’s “nobody better” than the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fix it.

The state had requested help from the federal government with mobile bridges to get equipment to flooded areas in central Michigan for debris removal, plus assistance from National Guard emergency responders and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had said the availability of equipment and personnel in the state to help with the disaster was limited due to the ongoing effects and response requirements of the pandemic.

The president's declaration authorizes the the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in Michigan.

Specifically, the White House said FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize and provide at its discretion equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Federal funding will cover 75% of the cost of emergency protective measures.

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, said FEMA will have staff on the ground Saturday to do assessments. 

“I will be working with all of our local, state, and federal officials to help Michigan families recover from his tragedy," he said.

Whitmer’s office said the initial approval of her request is limited to certain direct assistance from federal agencies to deal with immediate challenges, but could be expanded as the state and FEMA officials complete the damage assessment.  

  “The federal emergency declaration is a good start because it will help us take protective measures to protect lives and property from further damage,” Whitmer said. “These devastating floods have forced thousands of people from their homes and caused a tremendous amount of damage to our infrastructure. I’m hopeful that the federal government will soon approve the full funding request to help Michigan families rebuild after this natural disaster.”  

Flooding in the Midland region is "devastating," with experts describing the damage as a 500-year event, Whitmer said Wednesday in remarks at Midland High School.

The Edenville Dam, at the border of Midland and Gladwin counties, failed Tuesday afternoon and caused water to flow over and around a second dam, the Sanford Dam, downstream in the Tittabawassee River. More than 10,000 people had to evacuate.

Trump and Whitmer spoke Wednesday about the situation in Midland and he said he plans to visit the site "at the appropriate time." 

"We’re looking at the floods. We have our people from the Army Corps of Engineers there. We have FEMA there. I spoke with the governor, Governor Whitmer, yesterday, and we have a very good understanding," Trump said Thursday as he left the White House to fly to Michigan.

"But we’ve moved our best people into Michigan and our most talented engineers, designers, the people from the Army Corps of Engineers.  And they do these things better than probably anyone — anyone in the world."

Pete Gaynor, administrator of FEMA, named James K. Joseph as the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected areas. 

mburke@detroitnews.com

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