Flood victims 'pull together' for 'overwhelming' cleanup

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Edenville Township —  Days after a historic flood devastated the community where he grew up, Shaun Johnson was traipsing through mud and water in the basement of the home that has been in his family for 100 years.

Shaun Johnson, of Dewitt, looks down as he says he doesn't want to cry as he and family members remove items out the basement of his flooded family cottage.

He arrived Friday morning from DeWitt and discovered that his family's home suffered far less than others who lost so much more. 

As he was relaying some of the losses, Johnson choked up when he thought about what else he had seeing amid the rubble.

"This is small town U.S.A.," said Johnson, whose family home is across the street from the market, gas station and offices that make up Edenville Township. "Look around, people are working together and helping each other ... This is Americana. These are good, hardworking people who love each other and pull together in a tragedy."

Cleanup efforts have begun in central Michigan in the wake of the massive flooding that occurred Tuesday after heavy rains led to the failure of two dams in Midland County and flooding of the Tittabawassee River valley.

Residents were sifting through basements and discarding water-logged items on the sides of their homes. Others who had lost their homes in the flood were mining through their property, looking for remains to salvage. Still others were trying to rescue pontoon boats and canoes tangled in dried-up lake beds as work crews descended on damaged areas to make repairs.

“It’s all so overwhelming,” said Lydia Draves, Edenville Township clerk. “If you were in the path of the river, there was a lot damage. Houses along both sides of the river were four and five feet deep in water, or they were just swept away. Docks, boats, cars, houses. It was bad.”

This canoe and other debris is stuck in the trees several feet in the air on the east bank of the Tittabawassee River.

C. Bradley Kaye, Midland city manager, said during a press conference that he flew over the river valley Friday morning where the flood occurred to assess the magnitude.

"It was sobering," Kaye said. "The devastation is unbelievable. I observed a lot of people in their yards with much of the contents of their home out in the yard, much of it damaged. I saw houses that the foundation is literally 60 feet from where the house is."

Kaye said conversations with Consumers Energy indicated that power to Midland's downtown, out since Tuesday, would be returned in "a very short time."

The city manager also said curbside waste pick-up and landfill access was being expanded so residents can put damaged items on the side of the road. Kaye warned that the city considers the curbside waste to be contaminated and is enacting an anti-scavenging ordinance.

Back in Edenville, township Supervisor Craig Gosen spoke outside the township offices and said he expected the cleanup to go on for months.

Edenville Township Supervisor Craig Gosen looks down as he talks about the flood.

The Midland Landfill, closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will open for residents to be able to drop off debris and ruined possessions, Gosen said.

"That will help take some of the load off," he said.  "For the last three days, it's been a shock. But we are moving into the phase where we've recognized the significant devastation here and folks are starting to clean up. We have a lot of neighbors helping neighbors."

Across the street, Joe Rueda and his girlfriend, the deputy clerk in Edenville, came home to their house on a bluff and discovered no damage beyond trees where they used to watched eagles nest. The house next door also is theirs, and is vacant, so they offered it to two adults who lost everything in Sanford. They came with two children and two dogs.

Joe Rueda, of Edenville, says debris from the flood came up to here in the backyard of his girlfriend's house.

"Their house is gone," said Rueda. "When we saw that, I said to my girlfriend, 'We've got an open house. It's just sitting there.' They came in yesterday and we are doing everything we can to make them feel comfortable. We told them they could stay there as long as they need to."

Evan Carter contributed.